Howard Politzer
Howard Politzer Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Brookland TrueValue Hardware
3501 12th St. NE, (202) 635-3200

Omnia hardwara District of Columbiana in duas partes divisa est. First, there’s the Home Depot just off Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast. Incomplete inventory, unserviceable customer service, long lines at the register—never has there been a more automatic scratch from the Best-Hardware contenders card.

Then there’s the real competition, which takes place among the various shops associated with major national hardware names Ace and TrueValue. On this front, entrepreneurial activity has picked up significantly in recent years, to the eternal benefit of D.C. communities.

Much of the risk—and reward—has been borne by Gina Schaefer, owner of three gentrification-era Ace hardware stores around town. Schaefer’s outlets in Logan Circle, Tenleytown, and Glover Park are fine establishments with polite and well-informed employees. The inventory is complete and well-organized; if the store doesn’t have what you want, take it up with a customer care representative—chances are that the precious item can be ordered and in hand in no time.

Even though Schaefer’s contributions to the local hammer supply have won her a nod from Enterprising Women magazine, she’s still got a bit of work to do on the local front. That’s because the Best-of distinction in the District belongs to Brookland TrueValue Hardware, a local retail institution.

Brookland Hardware has been open since 1920, and it has the inventory to go with the history. The aisles are a bit cramped, but they’re cramped because this place has everything, from stains and paints to keys and tools and plumbing supplies. Chances are good that you’ll need some help finding what you need; chances are even better that there’ll be someone knowledgeable available to help immediately. “We try to be well-stocked,” says owner Howard Politzer. “We try to stock the old, hard-to-find items for old houses.”

Politzer, who has owned Brookland Hardware for nearly 29 years, is famous for holding onto good staff. One former assistant worked 21 years at the store, and other front-deskers are headed for similar tenures.

While a lot of hardware stores boast of being independent, this place feels independent. The clerks are helpful and folksy and will tell you if you’re about to make a foolish purchase. The shop feels more like your basement than a shiny retail establishment. And check this out: “We are the only hardware store in Washington, D.C., that has a lottery [terminal],” says Politzer.

Brookland Hardware’s real true value, though, resides in a document available by the front desk. It’s called a “rental menu,” and it’ll turn any old Joe into Harry Homeowner for a song. There are hammer drills, right angle drills, dollies, edgers, engine hoists, grappler hooks, linoleum rollers, planers, paint sprayers, sanders and more sanders, woodchipper mauls, and so much more.

It gets better. The store’s “EQUIPMENT RENTAL FORM” calls on customers to fill out some standard information, like name, address, and driver’s license number. But in a reflection of the quirky essence of this hardware outpost, the form also calls upon the renter to list height and weight. Now that’s putting the customer first.