Not many businesses in Dawson County can claim the kind of history that the ol’ hardware store in downtown Dawsonville can.
Owner Dwight Gilleland was still in diapers when his parents, Carlton and Cleva, opened Dawsonville Hardware in a shop near the old courthouse in 1947.
The store celebrated its 70th anniversary Aug. 1. It is believed to be the oldest, family-run business in Dawson County.
The store, located at what is now 18 Raymond Parks Street, started out in the space that holds J. Brooke Salon today. It slowly grew to encompass a much larger area, taking parts of the building next door until it grew to the size it is today.
Gilleland took over the business from his parents in 1977, in the same year Dawsonville Hardware was incorporated and became a member of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce.
Gilleland also served as the chamber’s first president and is one of the chamber’s longest, continuous members.
Gilleland saw the business scene downtown grow and change with time. There were only 3,000 people in the whole county when the business began, he said.
He remembered George Elliott’s Standard Supply, and the general stores of Cliff McClure and Taft Fouts. But other than that, his greatest competition didn’t come around until the bigger chain stores moved in near Ga. 400.
Gilleland said he keeps the store relevant by being just as competitive with pricing- most everything he sells is just as cheap, or cheaper, than big box stores.
“I don’t think we have to bow down to other, bigger stores,” he said.
Getting people in and out quickly is also key.
“They’re in and out in five minutes here, that’s what they need, 95 percent of the time,” he said.
“The ingenuity and innovation Dwight has put into Dawsonville Hardware is a shining example of how to keep a business relevant and prosperous in our ever-changing world,”Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes.
“The ingenuity and innovation Dwight has put into Dawsonville Hardware is a shining example of how to keep a business relevant and prosperous in our ever-changing world,” said Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes.
Due to his ingenuity, today the shop is known for free popcorn, mastery at making keys and small engine repair, Gilleland said.
“People send others to us if they can’t make the key and can’t seem to get the key to work,” Gilleland said. “We have like a .005 percent failure rate.”
He attributes that success to maintaining hand-operated machines, which he said work better than automatic machines and can make two keys in the same time it takes automatic machines to make one.
It was the advent of the computer that was the most significant change in the hardware business since he started, Gilleland said.
The biggest challenge was the great recession, which he said wiped out most businesses in Dawsonville and had him struggling to keep the doors open.
“We went through a devastating time in Dawsonville,” he said. “There wasn’t enough potential customers to offer them what they wanted and what they needed to be able to have Dawsonville as a destination.”
Still, he continues to maintain loyal customers and attract new ones.
“Being here for this length of time under one ownership, it's something that you learn to accumulate, you learn to stock the items that people ask for rather than taking chances of trying this and trying that,” Gilleland said. “People think it's a glorious thing to be in business for yourself, and it is, but you have to have an understanding of the products that you offer.”
There’s one thing that hasn’t changed about the business and that makes going to work every day worth it for Gilleland.
“What we are in the hardware business is problem solvers,” he said. “That’s what we take our biggest pride in being able to do.”
At 72, Gilleland says in a couple of years he would like to retire and do some traveling.