When you walk into the True Value hardware store near my apartment in Brooklyn, you’ll notice two things.
First: it contains a warehouse worth of hardware stacked, stuffed, and hung in a store the size of three city parking spaces. If you’re looking for grout or WD-40 or any of the entirely practical stuff that keeps the world turning, you’ll have no clue where to start.
In fact, the store would be an entirely impractical use of space, were it not for the second thing you’ll notice:
Almost immediately, an employee with old jeans and calloused hands comes to ask what you need.
In my case, it was nails, wood, and some guidance for a shelving project I was struggling with.
The employee, Tim, listened. He asked what the shelves would hold. Did I know what the wall they would attach to was made of. Had I done anything like this before.
And he concluded: Well, this is gonna be tough. But let’s give it a shot.
Then he walked me around the store, pulling out hammer-set anchors (you got a hammer drill? No? Ok, forget these, we’ll find you something better), industrial adhesive (let it dry at least an hour), and cedar (I’m gonna cut this to size and give you the extra in case something goes wrong).
And as we walked through that impractical use of space, I wondered if this weren’t an impractical use of Tim’s time. He and I both knew I wasn’t making a big ticket purchase. And there were plenty of other customers needing to buy plenty more of those practical things that keep the world turning.
But Tim stuck with me.
My total came to $11.40. An immeasurably small fraction of the rent they must pay on their three-city-parking-space-sized store.
But I walked out with that immeasurably large feeling that only comes when someone takes what you’re struggling with into their calloused hands and cares about it alongside you.
So, while the world might turn on practical things, I’ve come to think the world is enlarged by impractical things.