Anyone who lives in Huntsville knows about Harrison Brothers Hardware, and you have likely shopped there at some point. The store is more than 100 years old, and has not only served Huntsville’s retail customers and been a valued member of the business community, but it also stands as a true icon in Huntsville’s history.
While folks don’t go there for hammers and screwdrivers anymore, the hardware store-turned gift shop is still a favorite among shoppers in Huntsville and beyond.
100+ years in business
The store was founded by brothers James B. and Daniel T. Harrison, and their store has operated on the courthouse square since 1897. The death of James in 1908 brought younger brother Robert into the family business. As Daniel and Robert grew older and passed away, Robert’s sons Daniel and John took over and kept the store running through 1983.
With the fear of losing an iconic local business in Huntsville, the Historic Huntsville Foundation purchased the business in 1984 to keep it running, but also to keep a valuable piece of the city’s history alive.
The Harrison heirs sold the building and its stock to HHF for a below-market price, according to HHF executive director Donna Castellano. HHF members gave their personal funds, provided professional expertise and solicited donations to raise the funds. HHF also relied on numerous community volunteers for help.
Castellano said the store struggled at times, but the efforts to keep it preserved and operational have been a success.
“HHF invested in the future of downtown Huntsville back before it was the cool thing to do. But our investment has brought many rewards. Today, Harrison Brothers is a cultural hub in downtown Huntsville. Between Space Camp, Mazda-Toyota, NASA—and all the other innovative companies in Huntsville—our city attracts visitors from around the world. For Historic Huntsville, Harrison Brothers is not a business; It’s our mission.”HHF executive director Donna Castellano
Harrison Brothers Hardware – then and now
Today, you won’t find building equipment or farm supplies at the store anymore, but you will find cotton throws, colorful tins, marbles by the scoop, cast iron cookware, oak rocking chairs, garden gadgets, bird feeders and whirly-gigs, if you’re in the market for those items.
But what you buy there is not nearly as significant as what you experience in the store.
The store retains its original appearance, and all the counters, display shelves, wood floors and fixtures are all intact. Sales are still rung up on the 1907 National Cash Register first used by James and Daniel Harrison.
The brothers’ business desk, safe, and coal stove are still there–just about the way they left them. Original advertising posters, receipts and ledgers, vintage photographs and Harrison family mementos are displayed throughout the store.
As the HHF describes the store, “Better than a museum, Harrison Brothers is a living 19th century landmark sitting serenely in the midst of downtown Huntsville. High-tech Huntsville itself seems 100 years away as you enter the store.”
The hardware store-turned gift shop is a must-see for anyone visiting Huntsville, and is a fabulous reminder to those who live in the Rocket City of what the city once was.
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