|This hardware store has absolutely everything!|
In the year (or two, or three) since most of the boating travel guides we're using were published, many marinas have closed down the on-site "ship's stores" they once operated--or at minimum, they've drastically reduced their inventory.
West Marine, the Wal-Mart of the boat-supply industry, strategically erects ITS stores, not near docks and marinas so that people who are actually ON boats can get to them, but on Miracle Miles reachable only by car. And of course the Miracle Mile, miles out of town, is also where you'll find big-box hardware stories like Lowes and Home Depot.
There's often a downtown 'business district' within walking distance of wherever we dock, but downtown hardware stores seem to be mostly a thing of the past. BUT! Going for a stroll in Cocoa Village, we spotted the Mother Lode, the Real Deal, the Big Kahuna of Hardware: S.F. Travis Hardware (motto: "Try Travis First!"), the oldest continually family-run business in Central Florida . . . and possibly the best hardware store in North America.
The store is housed in a couple of rambling, faintly Spanish-style waterfront buildings, virtually unchanged since it opened in 1885. Pressed tin ceilings, antique glass-fronted display cases, beadboard walls, and the original library-style wooden ladders for reaching stuff on high shelves.
These accoutrements are not a stylish design decision, intended to give you that warm old-fashioned feeling. This place simply hasn't seen the need to redecorate. Where some old-timey downtown hardware stores survive by going all cute and touristy (Old Forge Hardware in upstate New York comes to mind, selling home accessories straight out of Plow and Hearth next to toys for the kiddies and jars of locally made jam), S.F. Travis is still pretty much a place where contractors and handymen go for basic supplies for a specific project: One specific bolt (not a whole shrink-wrapped, cardboard-clad pack) or a length of rope of a particular thickness and material, cut to order.
OK, it's true, right by the door there's a display with cute, flower-painted hammers for women. But the guys who hang out in the aisles, ready to help you, don't wear silly little color coordinated smocks. They look ready to actually build something.
And trust me, the emphasis is gen-new-wine hardware: Shelves and shelves and shelves of nails and screws, 50 different types of ladders, a bewildering display of PVC pipes and pipe fittings. Traffic cones and flagging tape? Got 'em. Generators? 30 kinds on display. Pipe wrenches big enough to take the engine out of a towboat, and other hand tools, and paint, and electrical supplies, and . . . well you get the picture.
The original S.F. Travis was a Civil War veteran whose first "store" (fittingly enough for us boaters) was the decks of a sailboat, which he used to ferry supplies to customers in coastal towns. He bought the existing building in 1892 . . . but the company was still delivering supplies by barge up through 1955.
Needless to say, Cap was at the doors shortly after they opened at 7 AM. We spent a good chunk of the morning wandering up and down, marveling at the riches. The store's meat'n potatoes is government and industry contracts (this is the Space Coast, after all) but what a bonus for boaters that this place exists.
We walked out with plumbing supplies (the less said about that the better) and big smiles on our faces.