When Bob Orgel moved his store, Garden Hardware, from Eighth to Tenth Avenue in October 2005, it marked another change to hell's Kitchen ever-shifting landscape.
Garden Hardware, founded by his grandfather Nathan Mandell and his father Bertram, opened in 1955.
His family’s presence on Eighth Avenue dates back even before ten. His grandmother Fay, a sharp businesswoman, bought the three-story building near 48th Street, which housed the business, in the early 1940's. She also owned a brownstone at 306 West 48th Street. The backyard abutted the store, and housed the popular Swiss restaurant Mont Blanc, which has since moved across the street.
She opened Fay's corset shop. It closed shortly after World War II when this accoutrement went out of fashion. The store remained vacant for a couple of years before the family converted it to a hardware store.
Hell’s Kitchen has had several "rows" or themed blocks. Two of the city's most popular venues, Restaurant and Theater Rows are still thriving. Eighth Avenue had its own unofficial "mini row" featuring hardware stores. This ended when Orgel moved his business.
At one time at least six hardware stores operated on Eighth Avenue or its side streets. Each one had carved its own niche. W.H. Silver near 50th Street specialized in the movie and film trade; West End Hardware, located just off Eighth on 48th served industrial customers; Longacre, located at the current site of the Food Emporium, at 49th, supplied the old Madison Square Garden, then across the avenue at what is now World Wide Plaza; Silver and Sons, near West 45th catered to the Broadway theaters; and Times Square Hardware on the northwest corner of 42nd, which housed a bank for many years, now a 24/7 Duane Reade.
His grandfather and father carried specialty products for the hospital, hotel and restaurant industries. They also had a large client base of midtown office workers and westside residents.
Different businesses often require specific types of hardware. "The businesses we supplied though different had similar needs. We handled plumbing, electrical supplies plus pieces for doors, tables, bathrooms and so forth. You name it. We had it. We carried the oddball stuff they could only find here. After all, "What is a restaurant? It is a glorified hotel," Orgel said.
Garden Hardware has built a solid reputation over the years. Among their clients are top tier restaurants like Le Bernardin and The Four Seasons. It also supplied the famous Mama Leone's, once the busiest eatery in the country. It closed in the early 90's. Garden still supplies the parent company Restaurant Associates.
In the mid-90's, with the demise of Silver & Sons, Garden Hardware added the Broadway theaters to its list of clients.
When asked which shows and theaters have accounts with him Orgel said, "All of them. We do every single Broadway show, several off-Broadway and some TV and movie productions." He cites Le Miz and Phantom as his first shows.
The late Mickey Fox, a theatrical carpenter and stagehand, gave Orgel his entree to Broadway.
"One day Mickey called and said he needed a few things and that I should start stacking supplies for stagehands," Orgel said. "Shortly after that Mickey faxed over his list. It turned out to be forty pages long. The pages kept coming and coming. Many of the things he needed I had never heard of before. And at that time I had twenty years in the business. The theatrical industry calls it by their name, and we in hardware had a different term for it.
"For example they call a cable clamp a Crosby. We say eye bolt, they say shoulder eye bolt, which actually is a much higher rated item," he added.
Orgel began working at the store part-time at 18. He made deliveries and got to know the neighborhood. His mother had lived on West 49th Street and had attended P.S. 17 just around the corner from the store. When Orgel, who grew up in Queens and Nassau County, finished college at the New York Institute of Technology, he began working full-time. Although he studied architecture for a time and then advertising he felt destined for the business.
Garden is an old-fashioned city hardware store filled with nuts, bolts, wrenches, screwdrivers, locks, paints and all the important things needed to maintain, repair or build your home or business. It is not the place where you walk around with a shopping basket. The aisles are cluttered with merchandise. The ceiling high shelves are packed with thousands of items. It is the place to go when you cannot find what you want anywhere else, or where you should have gone to in the first place.
Orgel’s knowledge in hardware supplies and repair is impressive. He is soft-spoken and humble but he knows-it-all and readily dispenses advice and the steps to complete a project, big or small, when asked. He is Hell’s Kitchen’s answer to WNYC radio “how-to home repair” gurus Al and Larry Ubell.
A slim 40-story glass tower now fills the old Garden Hardware site. The building remains unoccupied and has never housed a tenant. After all it is difficult to replace the Orgel family and their business.
Garden Hardware and Supply Company: 701 Tenth Avenue New York 10036; 212-247-2889; opened Mon-Sat.