He’s a Lucky Guy
Aug 31, 2020 09:07AM
By Grace Allen
Former Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez is credited with saying, “It’s better to be lucky than good.”
Some people, however, are just good at being lucky. You could say that Ed Hamwey is one of those people, and coincidentally, that’s one of his favorite quotes.
In late January, the 81-year-old Norfolk resident retired and closed his long-running business, Main Street Hardware & Supply. Did he see the pandemic coming? He says no, but it was certainly a fortuitous time to retire after 45 years in business. He did not have to lay off employees, implement new safety procedures, or worry about paying the bills during what has become one of the most difficult years ever for small businesses.
“It was a compilation of factors that made me decide it was the right time to retire, and it turns out it was,” Hamwey said. “I’ve always felt in life it was better to be lucky than good.”
Hamwey started Main Street Hardware & Supply in 1975, somewhat on a lark. He was a financial analyst at the First National Bank of Boston, but when an empty building became available in town, he saw a chance to start his own business. He had a degree in chemical engineering from Northeastern University and an MBA from Babson College. He had worked at a string of blue chip companies--Ford, Honeywell, and Raytheon. Turning his back on corporate America to open a small store in Norfolk seemed risky.
“At the time, I had been married for five years and had two small children and a mortgage,” he explained. “I was making a pretty good salary so it was a big gamble, not knowing what was going to happen.”
But a business background turned out to be a good thing to have when opening a hardware store.
“I don’t really like to work with my hands or fix things,” Hamwey acknowledged. “But I knew about overhead, cash flow, keeping costs down, things like that.” He figured he could make it work.
A little luck wouldn’t hurt, either.
Norfolk, mostly farmland at the time, had a population of about 500 people. Naysayers told Hamwey the store might not make it. But the town grew rapidly in the late 1970s and early 80s, and business took off. Main Street Hardware & Supply became the go-to place for area builders, contractors, and painters.
The store hung on during the stock market downturn of the early 2000s and survived the growth of the big box stores that rang the death knell for lots of small businesses. Hamwey’s keen instincts helped the store thrive.
“When we first opened, salesmen told me what to stock the store with, but as time went on I kept the store tailored to what people would come in and ask for,” he said. “I didn’t put in anything fancy that nobody would want, just the nuts and bolts that people were looking for.”
The store certainly did well enough to support Hamwey and his family. He and his wife Pat raised two children in town, Scott and Kim, both former student-athletes at King Philip Regional High School.
Hamwey’s head for business first became clear when he enrolled at Babson for his MBA. His guidance counselor at Natick High School had told him she was surprised he wanted to study chemical engineering because his aptitude test suggested he’d be good in business. Turns out she was right.
“Chemical engineering was tough,” Hamwey admitted. “But when I decided to go to Babson after undergrad, it was like I went to heaven.”
Those courses in finance and investment have served him well, and not just in the running of his store. One of his long-time hobbies is playing in the stock market. Back in the 1970s, he bought quite a lot of stock in a small Southern retail chain called Walmart (at $11 a share). He also purchased Amazon and Microsoft stock early on and convinced his wife to invest in Apple.
Savvy? Or just lucky? Hamwey won’t commit. One thing is clear though: he’s the type of person you’d be smart to tap for advice. And just because he’s seven months into retirement doesn’t mean he’s done contributing. After the pandemic is over, he might get more involved in town government or volunteer activities.
“I have a pretty good background in science and business, so I’m pretty versatile,” said the self-effacing octogenarian. “I’m not the brightest guy in the room but I am hardworking.”
Which brings to mind another quote, supposedly attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”