Bill Hardwick (1944–2017) carried on a family legacy with ‘sheer force of will’

The ’67 grad dedicated his life to Hardwick's, the U District tool and appliance store started by his grandfather in 1938.

If Hardwick’s doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it. The old-fashioned hardware store at N.E. 42nd Street and Roosevelt Way N.E., which is crammed to the rafters with more specialty tools and gizmos than you can imagine, was Bill Hardwick’s life’s work. Hardwick, who died May 30 at age 72, knew the purpose, price and location of every single item in the jam-packed store.

Hardwick was born in Oregon in 1944 but he grew up in Seattle with his two brothers spending idyllic summer days swimming in Lake Washington, fishing, building model airplanes and working in his grandfather’s store.

Bill’s brother Dean Hardwick, who now runs the store with his son Paul, says their grandfather sold real estate in Seattle until the depression hit in 1929. Then he opened a second-hand store on 82nd St. where he sold his own office desk.

“My dad saw him doing so well that he opened up the store here on Roosevelt in 1938,” says Dean. “My dad ended up in the quartermaster corps during World War II, and my grandpa closed the 82nd St. store and came down and ran the store on Roosevelt while my dad was in Germany and France getting strafed by the Luftwaffe.”

Running the store led to more than a livelihood. As a young man Bill would hit the Little Cheerful Café where he talked to Pennie, the cute red-headed waitress over lunch. Despite being a lousy tipper, she fell for him. They married in 1974 and raised three children.

Dean describes Bill as “amiable,” adding, “He always laughed at my jokes, anyway.”

An employee of Hardwicks, Blaise Black, who is a chemistry student at the UW, says: “He made the business run with sheer force of will. With Bill you got the old-time Harwick experience.”

Another employee, who has worked at the store for decades and knew Bill for 30 years, says: “Bill Hardwick was like a second father to me. One time I bought a ’65 Ford pick up from a neighbor who was a heroin addict. He sold it to me on terms but then his family kidnapped him and called me up and said I was ripping him off. I asked Bill if I should go to the bank and borrow the money to pay them off and he gave me the money. I wasn’t asking Bill for a loan. He was just that way.”

For Bill and his brother Dean, there was no greater pride than carrying on the business founded by their grandfather in 1932. “Bill put his heart and soul into this business,” said an employee, busy fixing the threads on a UW student’s bike calipers.

Bill worked up to 16 hours a day, just like Dean, who is running the store now with his son, Paul.

The store’s future is uncertain because rising real estate prices means the property tax bite is growing ever larger. Dean says the Hardwick’s customer base of carpenters and boat builders can’t afford to be in Seattle anymore.

If you want a gander at Seattle’s glory days or you just need the world’s best ratchet, head to Hardwick’s while you still can.