REIDSVILLE — From a 20 penny nail to a bull-nose plane, if you’ve got a hardware question, Ed Gwynn can hit the nail on the head.
And his jovial personality and uncanny talent for helping the handy find tools and fix-it solutions along the aisles of Saunders Ace Hardware have earned Gwynn the gold.
The 74-year-old broke from a steady stream of customers Monday afternoon to pick up the hammer that won’t hit a lick. “This hammer will never touch a nail,’’ Gwynn said with satisfaction as a patron admired the mounted gold tool, a gift from store owner Ross Apple and staff to commemorate Gwynn’s 50-plus years of service.
Back in 1962, Gwynn had a job at Friendly Chevrolet in Reidsville. A simple trip to buy a bolt needed for that job landed him an invitation to work at Saunders from the store’s then-owner Glenn Saunders.
“I was walking out the door with my bolt, and Mr. Saunders asked me if I’d like to be their delivery truck driver,’’ Gwynn said. “That was my first job, and I learned it all here.’’
Born on the Yance Blackwell farm in Caswell County with three sisters and three brothers, Gwynn had very little exposure to tools and no craftsmen to learn from, he said. His family’s work was mostly between the rows, planting and priming tobacco.
But by paying close attention and studying details of the stock on the Piedmont Street store’s shelves, Gwynn became something of a concierge of the hardware showroom, where a fleet of tiny pink tricycles sit alongside bird feeders and wide aisles of nuts, bolts, clamps and the like.
On a recent afternoon, a half-dozen customers — most of whom know Gwynn by name — spent time with him, discussing their projects and hardware shopping lists.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen,’’ said Bob Stanfield, who prefers Gwynn’s service over the impersonal shopping experiences at bigger box hardware chain stores.
“He knows everything and he can tell you exactly what you need.’’
“I wish I had known Ed earlier in my life, because he’s a great guy and helps me a lot,’’ said co-worker Paul Borusewicz, who started at Saunders in January. “Ed is definitely a people person and never has anything negative to say. He knows everyone and I look forward to when he’s here.’’
Gwynn’s chum since they were teens, “Little Mike” Hudson, hustled about the store last week, searching for a hammer with just the right heft for his household chores.
Though Hudson’s request was pretty simple, Gwynn took the time to help him make thorough price comparisons and encouraged his buddy to test several hammer handles for the right “feel.’’
“Nine times out of 10, if Ed don’t know the answer, he finds out and gets the information you need,’’ said Hudson, who met his longtime friend back in the 1960s while hanging out at his uncle’s neighboring Hudson Hardware. “It’s so nice having someone who’s willing to try to help you.’’
A man with strong faith, Gwynn credits his work ethic and job success to God.
“It’s not all about me, it’s‑“I would leave here and work nights at the (Rockingham County) Health Department as a custodian, waxing floors and cleaning. And before that, I worked in security as a second job for about 17 years,’’ Gwynn recounted.
“He’s just the nicest man I ever met in my life ... always smiling and always willing to help you,’’ said Kay Tickle of Reidsville, who got to know Gwynn when he worked at the health department.
In an era when young folks build mile-long lists of “skill sets’’ for their resumes, they should remember the best tool: kindness, Gwynn said.
Congeniality solves problems and will serve any young person entering the workforce, Gwynn stressed.
“What I love is meeting the people and knowing the people. I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know,’’ he said, beaming a smile and quick wave to a customer who stopped to congratulate Gwynn on his employment anniversary. “Come in dressed neat for your job, be courteous and learn your job well,” he said.
And it’s “because I was good with people that I was able to do well in this job and come back to this job,’’ Gwynn said, explaining he worked briefly for Golden Belt, but returned to Saunders after three years.
“I’ve been here so long now,’’ he said, stealing a few minutes on a rocker on the store’s front patio. “They’ve been mighty good to me, so I’m gonna stick with them for as long as I can.’’