Brown & Roberts on Main Street in Brattleboro.
Brown & Roberts on Main Street in Brattleboro. (©Kayla Rice)
Thursday July 11, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- One of Brattleboro's longest run family-owned businesses is changing hands.

Brown and Roberts co-owner Paul Putnam confirmed Wednesday that he and his brothers are selling the Main Street hardware store. Once the deal is completed in late September it will mark the first time in more than 40 years that a member of the Putnam family will not be the owner of a downtown business.

"I'm ready to cut back," Putnam, 65, said Wednesday. "I've got 50 acres behind my house I love to work in and maybe I can keep up with the weeds now."

Putnam, who owns the Brattleboro Ace Hardware franchise with his brothers Michael and Robert, are selling Brown and Roberts to Rick Bibens, who owns four hardware stores in the Burlington area and a fifth in Springfield.

He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Putnam said he and his brothers started talking about selling the business early this year and once they put it on the market it sold very quickly.

He said it was important to the family to sell it to someone who knew the hardware business, and not to someone who would be moving into the area without the hardware or business experience.

Putnam will be staying on part time after the Sept. 29 closing and he said his brothers and the rest of the staff are also expected to remain in the Brattleboro store.

"I don't think people will even notice the change," he said. "I know that I am looking forward to helping people, just like I've always done, without worrying about all of the other stuff."

In the early 1900s there were two hardware stores on Main Street in Brattleboro: A.F. Roberts and R.H. Brown. They merged in 1964 to form Brown & Roberts and Putnam's father, Bernard, and his partner, Les Neal, purchased the business in August 1970. The store was located in the Brooks House at the time.

In 1974 the business partners purchased the Montgomery Ward building at 182 Main Street and the following year Brown & Roberts moved up the street to the location where it has been ever since.

Paul and his brothers began working at the store in the mid-1970s and over the years various other family members worked there.

The family owned a second Brown & Roberts in Bellows Falls from 1992 to 2007.

At 65, Paul Putnam said he was ready to cut back and when he talked to his brothers about it he said they were not ready to take on the added responsibility of running the store without a third partner. He said he will not miss worrying about the things that he can not control, such as the future of health care, the Selectboard weighing a local option tax, and wondering if an employee is going to show up for a weekend shift.

The employees have known about the pending sale since April, Putnam said, and while he could not make promises about what Bibens will do once he owns the store, Putnam said it was his understanding that most, if not all, of the workers will remain.

Putnam himself will work three days a week, though he will spend all of his time on the sales floor and not up on the second floor making out schedules, going over budgets and checking out orders.

"There is nothing I love more than helping someone when they come in," he said. "Sometimes people come in thinking they need one thing and they leave with what they really need. I love it when they come back to tell me how it worked out and how they were able to complete a project."

According to Putnam, Bibens understands that he is purchasing a well established Main Street hardware store with a devoted clientele that continues to shop there because they know the staff.

Putnam says sales at the store remain strong, but after 43 years it is simply time for the Putnam family to make a change.

"The best time to sell a business is when business is good," he said.

Adding, as only an honest hardware man can, "If something is not broke don't fix it."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.