Bibens to buy Brattleboros Brown and Roberts
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | July 12,2013
BRATTLEBORO — With a handshake, the owner of Bibens Home Center in Springfield has agreed to purchase the iconic Brown and Roberts Hardware Store in downtown Brattleboro.
Rick Bibens said Thursday he would purchase the family-owned and operated store in late September, and take over the store by Oct. 1.
“It will be our first Main Street, downtown store,” said Bibens, who has built a small chain of Vermont hardware stores since buying the Springfield store from his father Eric Bibens in 1983.
The Brattleboro store, owned by the Putnam family, will be Bibens’ sixth store.
Bibens said he plans no changes at the Main Street store, and will leave its old-fashioned wood floor alone and will not change its name.
“As they say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” said Bibens, a resident of Springfield. “I am not going to turn it upside down.”
Paul Putnam, who owns the store with his two brothers, Michael and Robert, said at age 65 he wanted to work less but not necessarily retire. The store is famous for its family-oriented staff, and Paul Putnam said beside himself, his two brothers, his son, his wife and a couple of nephews currently worked at the store. Three other nephews have worked there. Other Brown and Roberts employees have been long term, some as long as 20 years, he said.
Putnam said he had known Bibens for years, as both had Ace Hardware stores.
Bibens said the deal was concluded the old-fashioned way: “with a handshake.”
“It was a very nonstructured sale. I shook a man’s hand, which was kind of cool,” he said.
Bibens said he expected all of the Brown and Roberts staff to remain, including the three Putnam brothers, although not at full-time hours.
The Brown and Roberts store, established in a former Montgomery Ward store, was the combination of two hardware stores, Putnam said. His father bought the store with a partner in 1970, and moved it to its current location in 1975. Paul Putnam has worked at the store since 1973. He said the biggest change in his family’s ownership came in 1995, when they bought a computer to handle ordering, pricing and inventory control.
From Bibens’ perspective, parking and delivery in the downtown area will be the biggest challenges.
But he said the store had an extremely loyal following and customer base, and pointed to the closing of the first Home Depot store in Vermont a few years ago as a result of the town’s loyalty to locally owned stores.
Home Depot and Lowe’s are competitors of all his stores, he said.
The big difference, he said, is customer service, and the fact the money stays in the community. With Home Depot and Lowe’s, money spent there leaves the community, he said.
Bibens bought his father’s hardware store in 1983, and sold the building to the then-next-door Idlenot Farm Dairy. He then built the current store on River Street, with an emphasis on building supplies. It opened in 1986.
He bought his second store in 2000 in Malletts Bay, a well-established store with an emphasis on fishing supplies and marine services.
“We even sell live bait,” he said.
Bibens owns four hardware stores in Chittenden County, with the chain’s main office at the Springfield location, which has a large lumber yard. He said only one of the stores was a new store, with the other three involving him taking over existing stores with a built-in community.
Each of the stores has an individual emphasis, he said. The other stores include Lakeshore Hardware and Marine in Malletts Bay, a Bibens Ace store in South Burlington, Hill’s Hardware in Burlington’s New North End, and the new store in Essex, as well as the flagship in Springfield.