by Sue Ann Rybak
People were literally dancing in the street on West Highland Avenue on Friday night, June 14, as residents gathered to celebrate Kilian Hardware Company’s 100th anniversary with food, music and other festivities.
W. Stewart Graham, chief-of-staff for City Councilman David Oh, presented Russell Goudy Sr. and his son Russell Goudy Jr., owners of the store, with a proclamation for being the “oldest continuously operating hardware store in Philadelphia.” The proclamation noted that “the people who work there are very polite and know what they are talking about — and if Kilian’s doesn’t have it, it doesn’t exist.”
Sarah McAllister, of Chestnut Hill, called the local family-owned hardware store “an amazing treasure trove of obscure things you did not know you needed until the thingamajig broke.”
Pat Sirianni, who grew up in Chestnut Hill, recalled one of his favorite memories about Kilian’s.
“As a kid growing up, whenever we wanted a pen knife we would always come here,” Sirianni said. “When I was about 8 years old, there was a hunting knife I wanted, but Russell wouldn’t sell them to kids. One day I came into the store and told Russell that was the one I wanted. He said ‘I can’t sell you that. You’re too little.’
“I told him I had a note from my dad,” Sirianni said. “Well, of course it was a forgery. So, I brought him the note and he said, ‘Well, I don’t know about this, but I’ll sell you the knife, anyway.’ Well, two days later my father came in, and Russell told him what had happened, so my father took the knife away.
“Many years went by, and my father passed away. When we were cleaning out his closet, we found the knife. I brought it back here, and Russell sharpened it for me.”
Walter Fox, now a Mt. Airy resident, said the day after his family moved in to their house on E. Highland Avenue in 1963, his first chore was to go down to Kilian’s to buy a hammer. Francine, his wife, said that ever since, “Every project begins with a trip to Kilian’s and ends with a trip to Kilian’s.”
Tony Smith, who grew up in Chestnut Hill, said he got his first job at Kilian Hardware Co.
“I worked there 55 years ago for one summer, and nothing has changed,” Smith said. “I still know where everything is.”
Jannie James, now of Poland, Ohio, said the first time she went to Kilian’s while visiting her son Brian over Thanksgiving, she was “just charmed by the store and the people.” James added that whenever she comes for a visit, she always brings a list.
A lot has changed on the Avenue since William and Minnie Kilian first opened the original hardware store at 8611 Germantown Ave. in 1913. Russ Goudy Sr. said that three years later later his aunt Minnie moved everything in a wheelbarrow to 8441 Germantown Ave., the current site of the Philadelphia Print Shop. The store was later passed to Minnie’s brother, John Nelson Goudy Sr.
The store’s current location is the site of the former Donat’s Hotel and Saloon. Goudy said his uncle bought the hotel in 1923 (shortly after Prohibition started) from Melvin H. Grebe, who was the builder.
“My uncle Bill borrowed $1,000 from Grebe, so they could buy some toys for the Christmas season,” Goudy said. “We had everything from hardware to housewares to toys.”
As a kid growing up, Goudy said his father would ask him and his brother where things were in the store.
“We used to ask him to play that game with us,” Goudy said. “In those days everything was shelved – nothing was on a peg board. He would ask us where were the dust pans, dust brushes, candles, simple things – and once in a while he would ask us some harder things like were are the scissors or knives.”
Goudy said they sold everything – from nail files to scissors, toys, hammers and straight razors. Currently the store carries 33,000 items in stock, ranging from housewares to hardware. In 1999 the store went online with a website designed by Russ Goudy Jr. The store ships items all over the world, including recent mail orders to Singapore and Australia.
“During the war, we were the only store in Philadelphia that had transformers,” Goudy said. “We carried a lot of war surplus. My father was afraid I was going to buy a Jeep in a box for $50 and put it together.”
Goudy said Kilian’s has everything – except for a “Jeep in a box.”