It’s hard to say what makes a business catch on. There’s strange calculus, even alchemy involved. Often it’s about selection, catering to a niche, or comes down to price. On rare occasions, though, a business survives because it becomes part of the community in which it was created.

These days, brick-and-mortar stores not only struggle against each other, but against virtual retail. Anything can be found online, and purchased with a mouse click. Where once towns centered on the local drug store, for example, now that idea seems quant. As a result, even mega-chains have problems. Many local businesses haven’t coped well, forced to scale back or close altogether.

Thankfully, there are exceptions. In Boulder, we have a perfect example in McGuckin Hardware. A local hardware store being a point of pride might sound outdated, but for those who’ve spent time there, it makes perfect sense.

mcguck inside

Inside McGuckin | credit: Shopper Culture

After sixty years of business, it’s grown to over 60,000 square feet, and features better than 200,000 items. But figures, though impressive, don’t tell the tale. McGuckin’s is decidedly more than a sum of its parts.

While they don’t have the inventory of, say, Home Depot, they always have what you’re looking for… and more. Anyone who’s shopped at McGuckin’s knows the score: you walk in with an idea of what you need, find that, and, through the assistance of helpful employees, walk out with a few items you hadn’t considered. They don’t house the choices big box retailers do because they don’t want to. What is there, however, is stocked as a matter of experience—vetted, tested, and proven over time.

Service plays a big role, too. Employees’ iconic green vests are synonymous with helpfulness. They’ll not only direct you to an item, but will make sure it’s what you actually need. Even if you walk in with a problem to solve, they’re preternaturally willing to listen, and not only suggest solutions to that problem, but often provide techniques, tricks, and related advice as well.

mcguck merch

McGuckin merch | credit: Village Shopping Center

This all may reek of advertisement, but it’s more. I’d argue McGuckin’s is worth considering in the larger picture of Boulder. They have offered help during snowstorms when chain stores didn’t bother opening. When the 2013 floods hit, they not only stocked what was needed but acted as a community rallying point, offering on the fly ideas—most famously, suggesting Boulderites use their yoga mats as temporary drainage troughs—connection to emergency services, and up-to-the-minute information.

Moreover, the experience of McGuckin’s is a metaphor of Boulder. Though small in terms of population, the city often feels bigger than it is; between tech start-ups and microbreweries, a large State university and outsized traffic, as well as open space and dense neighborhoods, it’s easy to find what you need or want. A lot of life is contained within the city limits.

McGuckin’s typifies that. You wouldn’t expect to find what you’re looking for, but you do. You wouldn’t expect basketballs and welding masks to be placed within twenty feet of each other, but they are. And that’s the thing: it’s more than a hardware store, just as Boulder is more than a college or athletic or environmentally conscious town.

mcguck logo

credit: Voltage

Even if—like me—you don’t have a handy bone in your body, walking around McGuckin’s is entertaining. It’s a jumble of barely contained chaos aisle by aisle, always with a touch of eccentricity. There’s a sense of surprise, in that you’re never sure what you’ll find around the corner. If that doesn’t encapsulate living in, working in, or visiting Boulder, I’m not sure what does.