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Pillar of the community; Paul Leinbach '43

Marsha Calder photo
Photo courtesy of the Reading Eagle

In a world of mass marketing and bigbox retailers, family-owned hardware
stores are few and far between. For Paul H. Leinbach '43, who still lends a
hand in the family hardware business at the age of 90, these stores represent a simpler time.

Retired for 15 years, Leinbach keeps busy by running errands for his youngest son, who took over the reins. The store itself still holds the same charms: the creaking floor, dusty sunbeam rays shining through the windows, and the front door with the jingle-jangly bell.

Leinbachs father started J.W. Leinbach's Hardware in Mount Penn, Pa., in 1921. A few miles from Albright, it was not only a store, it was the hub of the community."This place has been a secondary community center where folks gathered to stock up on supplies and swap stories," he says.

A chemistry major at Albright, Leinbach did not set out to join the family business. After he served as an Army medic in Burma during World War II, he worked as a chemical engineer in New Jersey. While contemplating his next move, he says, "My father pulled a trick on me by building a new store to get me into the hardware business."

Today, standing at 6'5" with a baseball cap perched on his head, Leinbach appears larger than life. "Hardware is an education in itself," he says. "If you are serious about it, you learn to use the products you are selling or you can't sell them."

As a business owner, being connected to the community has been just as important as knowing his product. Businesses succeed when the markets they serve are economically viable, he says.

Hovering over the donation canisters for the local Lions Club, Animal Rescue League, Salvation Army and volunteer fire department that line the store's check-out counter, Leinbach says community involvement was never something he thought about. It was automatic.

Still active in the Lions Club (he once served as the club's district governor over four counties) he's proud of the role he and his family have played in strengthening their community. Leinbach's father started the Mount Penn Fire Company, and his mother was involved in church. Leinbach was a Mount Penn Borough councilman and active in the Antietam Valley Recreational and Community Center for more than 50 years.

Widowed since 2000, he now lives with his two daughters in Exeter Township, Pa. Although he tries to attend Albright events, he doesn't get around quite as well as he once did. "I am still walking and talking… I never lost the talking," he chuckles. "That came in handy with business."

Although most hardware stores, overwhelmed by the retail behemoths of suburban development, have sold their last fistful of penny nails and closed their doors, Leinbach sees Lowe's and Home Depot – who often send customers to Leinbach's 30 x 60 showroom – as partners.

Jeff, Leinbach's youngest of six children, who now runs the hardware store, says that his father has influenced him in countless ways. "Pretty much anything he said probably carries over to how I feel about things."

–Linda L. Mecca '08

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