Overview:

Crane Hardware celebrates 50 years in business from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, rain or shine.

Crane Hardware, a fixture in downtown Jonesboro, celebrates 50 years of doing business on Saturday, September 10, with a rain-or-shine festival and a $2 raffle for a DeWalt four-tool combo kit.

Joanie McKeen and Jarrett Miller, who goes by Jabbo, run the old-school hardware store. “September 15, 1972. Allen opened it up,” McKeen said. A portrait of Allen Crane peeks from behind stacks of paper in the office. “Jarrett and Allen worked at Western Auto together.”

Joanie McKeen of Crane Hardware in Jonesboro.

“It was across the street from the sandwich shop right up here on your left,” Miller said. “You know where Swint’s is? That’s where it used to be.” Western Auto later moved to where The Fig Tree coffeehouse is today.”They had moved on down to Jonesboro, yes they did.”

“So y’all worked there in high school?” McKeen asked.

Jarrett “Jabbo” Miller of Crane Hardware in Jonesboro.

“Yup. What days I went,” Miller said. “It was owned by Coley Adamson, Coley T. Adamson, and me and Allen both worked there. We put bicycles together at Christmas because you had to put everything together. Anybody bought stuff on layaway, we had to put it together. And we had everything there to do it with. And the reason Allan wanted to leave was ’cause I throwed a muffler at him one day, and we was moving ’em from here to here, and I throwed one, completely come out of the end of the box. And when it did, it was a big old heavy muffler, like it used to be, and it went down on his big toe.”

A portrait of Allen Crane, founder of Crane Hardware, supervises from the office wall.

“I’m surprised [Crane’s] mama didn’t kill you,” McKeen laughed.

“And his mother and daddy—his daddy was a machinist. He could make anything. And he could make guns. I got one of ’em. Handmade. But they had a pretty good name. And so they just told Allen, ‘Let’s just open up our own hardware store.’ That’s how it come about.”

From that 50-by-80-foot space, the business moved and morphed over the years into its current home, a large lot with the hardware store, the small-engine sales and repair shop, a warehouse, and several storage sheds.

Behind its nondescript exterior, customers walk into the kind of hardware store that existed well before the multi-billion-dollar big-box chains did. A wall of key blanks of every description is the first thing you’ll see. Don Wayte—”Old English spelling,” he said—has been cutting those keys at Crane Hardware for decades. And they sell a lot of them, he said. “We can cut just about anything.” Unlike the big-box stores, which use electronic machines that don’t always work, Wayte uses one of eight different machines to cut the keys by hand.

“The reason we got so many key machines, Allen—Joanie, now, and Jarrett, me—if Allen got a good deal on a key machine, he’d buy it. And we’d put it out here.” Wayte estimates he cuts 50 to 100 keys a day. “We still have truck lines that’ll come in, buy 50, 100 keys at a time. Normal day, just me personally, I’ll do between 25, 40.”

“October’ll be 40 years,” Wayte, a Navy veteran, said. “I came to work for the first time in October of ’76.” He said he had known the Cranes before they opened the store. “I came to Georgia the first of March in ’72. My wife was here, and that’s when I got out of the Navy. I’m originally from Jersey. I left when I was 18 and never went back,” he laughed.

“I learned from a coworker at a place I was working at, they sold milk and eggs. Being from Jersey, I never had fresh cow’s milk. I went over and asked if she’d sell me a gallon of milk. Sold me a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. I used to go every week, once a week, and buy milk and eggs. Well, over the summer, of course they had the little farm and stuff, they’d get me to come help ’em pick stuff and get the garden stuff, and Allen was working for Western Auto. He was managing the Western Auto store. And they were gonna buy the Western Auto store, the guy wanted to sell it, and Western Auto wouldn’t sell it to him ’cause he was too young. He wasn’t but 21. But, so they opened the hardware store.”

Wayte briefly worked for McDonalds, first as a side gig, then leaving Crane altogether because the store couldn’t match McDonalds’ manager’s salary. “I was starting to have kids, and I had to feed them,” he explained. “McDonalds offered me a job in management, paying me more than both my jobs were paying me. I came to talk to Allen about it before I gave a yes, and he said, ‘Well, I can’t pay you that much. Go for it.’ I didn’t realize I was gonna go from working 80 to 90 hours a week on two jobs to 90 and 120 hours a week on one job.”

Don Wayte has worked for Crane Hardware for almost 40 years.

In 1987, after a 14- or 15-hour day and “being in a fuss” with his supervisor, he dropped by the store. “And Allen said, ‘You know anyone looking for a job?’ That was all it was. Next week, I was working at Crane Hardware. And never have left since.”

If you need a cast iron skillet, a seal for your pressure cooker, a roll of barbed wire and the tool to stretch it with, BBs, a meat grinder, a wall-mounted bottle opener, a good locking blade or jackknife, fly paper, a fireplace damper, a bushel of pecans shelled, a piece of window glass cut to size, a pipe threaded, or a single screw, you can get that and more at Crane Hardware.

“When I first came to work, Clayton County was pretty much rural,” Wayte said. “A lot of farms, late 70s up to the early 80s. When I come back in ’87, we were selling bee supplies. The farm equipment was dwindling by then…That’s how we got in with P.N. Williams. We used to sell P.N. his bee supplies. Now we just buy the honey from him. The area has changed from rural to bedroom suburban. The people are still great.”

They say you catch more flies with honey. Crane Hardware carries local honey from longtime beekeepwe P.N. Williams, as well as old-school flypaper.

The store is also a favorite location for local GOP political events. Candidates stop by during election season, looking for votes and rallying local party members. A Trump campaign sign and other GOP memorabilia hang in the office alongside family photos and kids’ drawings, and a long row of Jarret Miller for Mayor campaign signs gather dust in the warehouse. Miller, who did a lot of work on Main Street’s historic register buildings, said he “rebuilt everything that Sherman didn’t burn down.”

A customer catches up with Joanie McKeen at Crane Hardware, Jonesboro.

The store is run by people, not computers. Customers come in and out—”Hey, Jabbo, what’s up! I need your help!” one man hollered—looking for advice, chainsaw repair, and gossip.

“It used to be Peyton Place of Jonesboro,” McKeen joked. “There’s chairs back there, sit and talk. They would, for hours on end. Their lunch breaks, everything.”

“Sure would,” Miller said.

“And Allen loved it. He luuuuuuvved gossip,” McKeen said.

The store doesn’t use a website to get the word out, although it has a Facebook page. And it has a Linotype machine that McKeen still uses for printing.

Detail of the Graphotype that Joanie McKeen uses at Crane Hardware.

Today’s celebration goes on rain or shine. Crane Hardware is at 7996 North Main Street in Jonesboro.

Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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