I don't know about you, but it just makes me happy to walk into a hardware store. I feel like I can find the solution to any and all my problems (known and unknown) somewhere among the riches you'll find there. Lawn sprinklers, chain saws, cesspool cleaner, bins of blackeyed peas and lentils and mustard seed, rakes and hammers and pots and pans and nuts and bolts. It's especially good when you can ask the person there, "Do you sell those thingies that go into wood and then you can put a screw in them? ... Do you have whatever it's called that I can nail into sheetrock to hold up a picture? ... I need a tiny screw, no, I don't know what size, but it's probably the tiniest screw made ... ," and, in return, get service with a smile and not a smirk that says you really, really need to know what size screw you're looking for, lady, including whether it was manufactured in millimeters or inches.
Perhaps the folks who voted Fuller and Son the best hardware store (again; it's a repeat winner) weren't the helpless types who find comfort, but people who know what they are doing and know they'll find what they need there. And that when they do, Fuller will match the lowest price they would pay anywhere else in town, including the price of things sold by "the orange guys," as Jeff Fuller refers to The Home Depot.
"Pop" Fuller (his name was Walter, but he was called "Pop") opened the first Fuller store at 28th and Arch streets in 1921. It was mostly a farm supply store, with plow parts and feed. The Fuller family's biggest store, at 7311 Baseline Road, opened in 1964, and besides hardware and seed and free popcorn and an ice cream case, it's got a lumber yard and a machine shop. Fuller and Son opened a store at 900 Main St. in downtown Little Rock 11 years ago, and customer Troy Barker, the maintenance supervisor for Flake & Kelly commercial realtors, calls it the "jewel in downtown." "I like the customer service and the way they make you feel at home," Barker said. By way of example, he turned to the woman at the counter and asked her if she knew his name. She did, and he knew hers. Between them on the counter sat a fake orange tree that another regular brought in ages ago, a customer the woman at the counter — Angie Sharp — said was her favorite. It gets decorated at Christmas.
Fuller gives discounts to military, police officers, firefighters and oops. The oops category covers folks who are not asked within seconds if they can be helped: Those folks get a 5 percent discount. Which is why when I went into the downtown Fuller store, Sharp practically tackled me to ask me what I was looking for. No anonymous browsing here.
Fuller's is now run by Bobby Fuller, grandson of "Pop"; he bought the business from his father "and I'm unloading it on these guys," he said, pointing to sons J.R. and Jeff. Jeff also writes the store's Addy-winning commercials starring the Fullers, which are clever enough you might want to go look them up on YouTube (the Landers boys can't hold a candle to the Fullers).
Both Jeff and J.R. said they're proud of being able to help folks out. For example: "This guy came in and said every time he flushed his toilet his computer would power off," Jeff Fuller said. That was a head-scratcher for a minute, but then the light came on: "You on a well?" they asked the customer. He was. The pump was using so much power to get water to the toilet, it was breaking the connection in the room with the computer. Problem solved.
The Fullers had advice for someone looking for a part they can't quite name or describe: Take a picture of it and bring it in. They say they'll tell you what you need, even if it means they don't make a sale. "We want you to come back," Bobby Fuller said.
Other Fuller stores are at 14710 Cantrell Road, 9815 W. Markham St. and 5915 R St.