LENOX — When Carr Hardware President Bart Raser struck a deal last April to invest $1 million for a new superstore at the renovated, revitalized Center at Lenox, he voiced cautious optimism that he could open in time for Christmas shopping.
"We just made it," Raser told a visitor recently. "A good time to get here," what with seasonal merchandise flying off the shelves as deep winter settled into the Berkshires.
Thanks to a revved-up construction timetable, the doors opened at 7 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, aka Black Friday, with no fanfare other than a Facebook post and an illuminated "open" sign in the window, digitally programmed by Raser's 15-year-old daughter to display the hours of operation.
Ever since, reflecting what he called "pent-up interest," a steady stream of customers has scoped out the nearly 11,000-square-foot, brightly lit, wide-aisled store. It's part of WS Development's shopping complex at 489 Pittsfield Road (Route 7/20) that includes Price Chopper (soon to become the chain's upscale Market 32), Marshalls department store, CVS Pharmacy, Verizon Wireless and Berkshire Bank.
"It's a softer side of Carr Hardware," said Raser, co-owner with his father, Marshall, 91, pointing out work clothing, muck boots, a vast array of outdoor grills and indoor cooking equipment. "A lot more `gifty' stuff than you'd see at our other stores," he said.
"This is an important showcase location for us," he told The Eagle during a walk-through this past week. Raser paused frequently to warmly welcome customers, many by name, and offer them assistance as needed.
Although it is decked out for winter needs, Raser noted that a fenced-in, 150-long "really dominant" outdoor garden center will sprout on the eastern side of the store. Outdoor furniture, and lawn and garden merchandise already have been shipped well in advance.
"People are taking their lives outside," he said, "and it's becoming a much more important part of their lifestyles, so we're catering to that, a lot more higher-end stuff, higher-end grills, pellet grills. and `The Big Green Egg,' an iconic grilling product because you can bake, grill, roast and slow-cook, with total temperature regulation, all-natural charcoal; it's all the rage."
The large version retails for $899, not including accessories.
The regional chain, now seven stores strong, was founded by Sam Carr in 1928. The downtown Pittsfield store on North Street remains the flagship, Raser assured local customers, augmented by locations in Lee, Great Barrington and North Adams, as well as Avon and Enfield, Conn., and a new Carr Paint store in Springfield.
"We're small enough that each of our locations can be very different," he said, and all of them are, based on the needs of the customers."
The Lenox store caters to "a very different market than downtown Pittsfield," Raser said, predicting a new customer base, including second-home owners, for the higher-end brands. "It's a different customer, a different mix."
Carr Hardware's national partner is now Do It Best Corp., a member-owned co-op of 4,000 stores formerly known as Hardware Wholesalers Inc.
"That's allowed us to do some things we couldn't do before, such as a private-label Carr rewards card with financing options," he said.
The co-op also helped with physical layout, the flow of the store and other interior design, inventory selection and assistance with the garden center.
"Typically, we're on our own," Raser said, "but these guys had so much professional experience with layout, design and product mix, so, it's been a great help."
Featured lines include Pittsfield's Blue Q "life-improving, joy-bringing products," KitchenAid housewares, custom window treatments such as blinds and shutters, vanities, Kohler medicine cabinets and an extensive array of paints.
Soon to open will be a counter for repairs of screens, lamps and other service needs.
Same-day delivery should be especially welcomed by contractors, Raser noted, since morning orders can be dropped off at construction sites a few hours later.
Grills, lawn mowers and other products also can be delivered same day to purchasers within 7 miles of the store.
Despite online headwinds buffeting retail stores, Carr hires staffers with specialized, technical knowledge of product lines such as plumbing and electrical, Raser said. The new store will ratchet up to 18 staffers, mostly full time.
It is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, except Sundays, when hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Last April, the town's zoning board approved special permits and site plans for WS Development for a rebuild and expansion of the former Price Chopper site, half of which is now occupied by Carr.
Seven additional spaces ranging from 2,000 to 11,000 square feet will be available for additional stores, and an eighth business could go into the former Radio Shack location adjoining the Marshalls discount store.
The expansion of the complex also includes up to 5,000 square feet of potential retail space in a southward extension of the existing building housing Verizon, formerly Friendly's, accommodating one large or two smaller tenants, possibly a new restaurant.
If retail interest emerges, the expansion could lead to construction of two new buildings with 36,699 and 18,975 square feet of space on the build-out lot just north of Marshalls, which is owned by TJX Cos.
"We're thrilled to kick-start this development and get this plaza going," Raser stated.
A formal "grand opening" for the store is set for the May 16-17 weekend to launch the busy warm-weather season, with the Whiskey City band booked to serenade shoppers.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.