Adler’s Hardware celebrates its centennial

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Adler’s Hardware has been a Providence fixture since 1919, when it was opened on Wickenden Street by Romanian immigrant Fred Adler. The store originally sold work clothes and World War I surplus goods, and Fred made some additional money by doing engraving work for Providence’s then-booming jewelry industry.

After World War II, Fred’s son Irving joined the family business, and it was around this time that Adler’s expanded the size of their store and added hardware to their inventory.

While Irving joined the family business, Fred’s other son, Carl, opened a clothing store on Westminster Street. When the building of I-95 went through that store’s lot, Carl joined his father and brother in running the Wickenden Street store. Irving managed the hardware department, while Carl was in charge of clothing and military surplus. In the 1970s, Irving and Carl oversaw a second expansion to the Adler’s building.

Today the store is run by cousins Harry and Marc Adler, who are Irving and Carl’s respective sons.

“Jewish Rhode Island” spoke with Marc about Adler’s Hardware and the challenges and rewards of running the family business.

JRI: Would you tell our readers a bit about yourself? How did you get involved in the family business?

MA:  I’m a CPA by training. I worked for Manufacturers Hanover Bank in Manhattan, and a paper distributor in Chicago. I came back to Providence because I decided I wanted to work for myself.

JRI: How have you seen your business change over the years?

MA: Probably the biggest change was when Home Depot came to town. It was like a vacuum cleaner. They sucked up business from all kinds of stores.

JRI: How have you survived?

MA: We’ve gone into niches,
like high-end decorative hardware, window treatments, wallpaper, fabric, paint, so we don’t compete directly with the big boxes. Internet competition has been our biggest challenge.

JRI: That’s been a challenge for a lot of small businesses. What do you find most rewarding about your work?

MA: Really, it’s the people that you meet. You meet such a diverse population, and 99 percent of them are friendly and very appreciative of your service. We have excellent employees. Most have been with us for many years, and it’s a pleasure to spend the day with them, including my wife and my cousin!

JRI: What will happen when you and Harry retire? Is there a new generation ready to take over?

MA: No new generation will be taking over. We plan to eventually sell the business, but intend to continue as long as our health is good, and we’re able to manage the business.

JRI: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

MA: We’ve been here 100 years, and I feel that we’ve been Jewish representatives to the community. Over the years we’ve run the business with a high level of integrity, honesty, customer service, and, at times, humor. I feel we’ve done an excellent job as representatives of the Jewish people.

MICHAEL SCHEMAILLE (mschemaille@jewishallianceri.org) writes for Jewish Rhode Island and the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.