Cumberland Hardware Brings Community, Cats and Compassion Together
Nestled in the heart of the historic Five Points neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, sits Cumberland Hardware. Serving the community for over 120 years, Cumberland Hardware is the oldest hardware store in Nashville and one of the last remaining historic hardware stores in the downtown area. Owned and operated by John Varallo and his wife, Shelia, since 1984, the store continues to be a staple in the Cumberland neighborhood.
- Cumberland Hardware has been in business for over 120 years
- The team has been supporting an after school program for 10 years
- Store cats Annie and Oliver are popular among customers
- Cumberland Hardware stood up for Nashville residents after a tornado impacted many in 2020
“We’ve been working with local high schools for almost 10 years now and we strive to help each student who comes in learn something about our business. The younger generation is going to take over from us, so giving them positive feedback and encouragement while they spend a few hours with us a couple of nights a week helps build their confidence and keeps them in a safe place.”
- John Varallo
To accompany their traditional hardware products, Cumberland Hardware also specializes in storefront window repairs, lock repair and vintage lamp rewiring. The store has been repairing storefront windows since the business was founded, John says. They’ve added on lock repair and vintage lamp rewiring over the years as community demand grew. The Varallos have seen an increase in their lamp rewiring service over the past few years, not just for vintage lamps, but for new ones as well. They often repair lamps from overseas that they convert to work in the U.S. as well.
John, who does the rewiring himself, makes sure all aspects of the lamps are up to code and are safe to use in homes in the surrounding area.
In addition to the Varallos running the store, Cumberland Hardware has two furry employees who offer the best customer service. Well known through the store’s Facebook page, cats Annie and Oliver have been a fixture in the store since they were young. Annie, now 19, still continues to take down any mouse that finds its way into the store to try and get some bird seed. Oliver, 12, tends to take the more laid back approach and sit on stools around the store to greet customers and meow for pets.
“Annie and Oliver really run the place,” John says. “We will get a new product in and try to advertise it online through our social media and it does okay. But if we upload a photo of the product with either Annie or Oliver in it, it blows up.”
Community members love walking by to see Oliver lounging in the front window sun bathing or roam around the store to see Annie in action, making sure the building is mice free.
Next Generation Inspiration
One aspect of the business John is proud of is working with local high school students by teaching them various trades through a six-week after school program. For a few hours each week, they help around the store. Once the student has been at the store for six weeks, they rotate to another business in the program, such as a local grocery store, and learn how that store operates. It exposes the students to different kinds of jobs at a young age and shows them that there are other career options available.
“We’ve been working with local high schools for almost 10 years now and we strive to help each student who comes in learn something about our business,” John says. “The younger generation is going to take over from us, so giving them positive feedback and encouragement while they spend a few hours with us a couple of nights a week helps build their confidence and keeps them in a safe place.”
Recently, John had a student who discovered an interest in cleaning and keeping things tidy around the store. John saw this and taught the student about janitorial services, environmentally friendly products and basic customer service to encourage them to continue following their newfound passion.
Another student had fun reorganizing and merchandising around the store. John taught them about stock management and allowed the student to merchandise a section of the store to get hands-on experience.
“The after school program for high schoolers is one way of giving back to the community,” John says. “We’ve even had past participants return to the store after graduating high school to express their gratitude for getting to come to the store and learn something that is helping them today.”
Tornadoes In Nashville
In the spring of 2020, several severe storms broke out across the midwest and southeastern states. While Nashville was not spared from the storms, Cumberland Hardware was.
“The store next to us lost their store front,” John says. “And the store on the other side of us had their roof blown off. Thankfully, we only had a cracked window, which we could easily fix.”
The night after the tornadoes, the Varallos went to the store and opened it up for business. As the neighborhood began to come out of shelter, locals turned to Cumberland Hardware for all their post-storm needs.
“There wasn’t any power in the area, including our store,” John says. “We were fortunate enough to still have a standing building. As the storm passed, people arrived looking for items they needed, like flashlights and tarps. We began handing out items for free because we were fortunate enough to still have our store standing and wanted to make sure our community was safe, too.”
In the weeks following the storms and tornadoes, Cumberland Hardware was showered with praise and appreciation. Community members returned and purchased items as a way of saying thanks to the Varallos for helping out when they were in need.
“The amount of people who have come in just to say they heard what we did for the community and are grateful for our actions has been tremendous,” John says. “It shows us that the community needs us and appreciates us for what we provide and what we do. The community wants us to stay, and this is where we plan to be for years to come.”