Celebrating 117 years on the UWS
Beacon Paint & Hardware prides itself on personalized service, community engagement and dog-friendliness
Beacon mascot Bru, a 12-year-old black Labrador. Bru spends her days greeting customers, children from nearby P.S. 87, and other dogs. Photo: Razi Syed
Beacon Paint & Hardware, a stalwart of the Upper West Side. Photo: Razi Syed
Beacon Paint & Hardware co-owner Bruce Stark, who has worked at the shop since his family purchased it from the original owners in 1971, when he was 14 years old. Photo: Razi Syed
Beacon Paint & Hardware, a family-run shop on the Upper West Side, has survived to see its 117th year by instilling loyalty in its customers.
“I used to believe that if we could get people to the store once, we’d have them for life,” said Bruce Stark, co-owner of the store with his brother. “Because we’re nice, polite, helpful and honest.”
As customers walked into the store on a recent Thursday afternoon, employees called them by name — a point Stark takes pride in.
“We get to know them by name,” he said. “That’s the key to getting them back — we need a competitive advantage and personal service is our advantage. We get customers wanting to come back.”
While the Stark family isn’t the original owner, the family can trace its connection to the earliest days of the store, which is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets.
Inside, the store walls are painted a deep cerulean blue and the shelves are packed full of cleaning supplies, nuts and bolts, tools, plumbing equipment, among other items. A display of Benjamin Moore paint swatches takes up the area near the front door.
“My father bought the store in 1971 from the original family, and my grandfather, who had a paint store on the Lower East Side, knew the original owners,” Stark said. “I was 14 then. I came in, started helping out and I’ve been here ever since.”
For the neighborhood children, who occasionally stop by Beacon to get a free balloon, the highlight of the store is undoubtedly Bru, a gentle 12-year-old black lab with wisps of gray hair around her snout.
“My brother called me up and said, ‘I got this dog but what do I do with her during the day?” Stark recalling how Bru came to be the store mascot as a young pup. “I said, ‘Bring her into the store.’ And everyone fell in love with her.”
Bru has kept busy, greeting customers, kids and other dogs all day long.
“We used to have parents tell me that the only way they could get their kids up on time for school was the promise that if they got up on time, they could go say hello to Bru first,” Stark said. “So it’s been great.”
Customers are also welcome to bring their own dogs when they visit. During a roughly hour-long period on a recent Thursday afternoon, two customers stopped by with their dogs, each of whom was given a dog treat by store employees.
“We take care of the dogs first, then the people,” Stark said, laughing. “When Bru was a puppy, we used to have toys lying all over the floor; people complained and you never saw those people again.”
Bruce’s brother, Steven, began working at the store in 2000, after leaving a career in journalism. Their sister, Ellen, works as the store’s bookkeeper.
“We work the counter ourselves, my brother and I, and we help people all day long,” Stark said. “So we always have management on-hand.”
Traditionally, Beacon had been a paint store. In the last 30 years, the shop added hardware to its shelves.
Looking at trends over the past several decades, Stark said there are fewer people fixing up their places on their own but superintendents remain good customers. Beacon also retains commercial accounts for large hotels in the city, including the Waldorf Astoria, Hotel Belleclaire and The Plaza.
Beacon prides itself on its engagement with the Upper West Side community, which Stark said is impossible for a big box store to replicate.
“My brother and I live on the Upper West Side, so we’re involved in everything from the Chamber of Commerce to the community board and block associations,” Stark said. “We also do a lot of charity events.”
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, whose district includes the Upper West Side and parts of Hell’s Kitchen, has long been a fan of the store, noting the personalized service they offer.
With competition from online and big stores, it’s even more precious to have a family-run business, Rosenthal said, “not just because it’s a small business but because of because great service and community participation that they bring to the Upper West Side.”
As part of its community engagement, the store gives the police department paint to cover graffiti and donates goods to P.S. 87, which is located yards away from the shop.
One particular event, which the store has organized annually for the past 16 years, is the Walk-a-Thon to raise money for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization which provides the blind with help in acquiring trained guide dogs. The Walk-a-Thons draw as many as 300 people each year and raise $10,000 to $15,000 annually.
“It’s a celebration of the local community combining together,” said Rosenthal, who has been a guest at previous Walk-a-Thons. “It’s sort of a small town type of community event in the big city.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer points to the Starks’ community work as the store’s greatest strength. “They really understand community and it’s paid off,” Brewer said.
Since Stark began working at the store in 1971, he has witnessed the Upper West Side change dramatically.
“Back in the ‘70s and before that, there were single-room-occupancies, flop houses ... there was certainly a lot more crime,” Stark said. “Then things got better and better and more expensive and expensive. That hasn’t exactly been good for everybody, as people get pushed out by the rents. Businesses are falling by the wayside, especially the small ones.
“Now you say you live on the Upper West Side, people say ‘Wow, that’s a pretty nice place,’” Stark said. “Thirty years ago, it was, ‘I live on the Upper West Side’ and people said, ‘Why?’”
As the store has moved into the 21st century, Beacon faces the threat of competition from a nearby Lowe’s and from online shopping.
“You can always find something cheaper someplace else but you may not be able to find good service — and that’s something that we do,” Stark said. “Doing the right thing, working hard — that keeps us going.”
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