Born in Austria in 1890, Yiddish-speaking Isadore Schneider came to the United States as a young man. Settling in Newark, New Jersey, he worked in a company that offered a sharpening service before purchasing an existing hardware store with his brother in the Tory section of West Orange.
Schneider faced many obstacles. Foremost, there were five hardware stores already conveniently located nearby. Furthermore, he achieved only a third-grade education in Austria, had sight in only one eye due to a medical condition, spoke and wrote English phonetically—and 99% of the customers were Irish or Italian.
None of that deterred Schneider, who learned to speak Italian from a friend. He bought out his brother’s share of the struggling business and, after taking four or five years to break even, made a go of it by creating a following which has lasted 100 years and is still going strong.
Within years of purchasing the original building, then moving to other addresses on the block, Schneider landed the current location and grew the business to expand it to twice the size. His wife, Beckie, an accomplished seamstress, worked there in housewares while raising their two children.
Located near the first planned gated community in the United States, Llewellyn Park, the business has seen many notables from that elite area walk through its doors. Schneider’s son Leon even made deliveries to Thomas Edison’s home. Edison’s son, Theodore, lived to his 90s into the 1990s and was a regular customer.
Leon Schneider entered the business by working through high school. After graduating from West Orange High School in 1939, he served in the U.S. Navy during WWII before returning to the store. He worked there for about 60 years before retiring at age 77 in 1999. By that time, his two younger sons, Gerald and Roger, were with him in business.
To build up a following, Roger said that his grandfather would go to homes and help with plumbing and carpentry. “Someone would call and say, ‘That flapper you sold me for the toilet, I’m having trouble installing it.’” Isadore Schneider would offer to go to their home to fix the problem.
As for his father, Roger said he was hardworking, dedicated and resourceful. Leon told jokes and shared West Orange history. And he used to say, there were so few Jews in the area that he knew every Jewish kid in all the Oranges, not just West Orange (unlike today).
Roger Schneider brought a new dimension to the business 33 years ago when he approached his father with his idea of handling outside commercial sales. He used his years of sales expertise to travel throughout eight towns, cultivating charge accounts with schools, assisted living facilities, hospitals, factories, banks and apartment buildings, while maintaining existing clients.
For homeowners and commercial establishments, “price is the biggest concern,” Roger said. At Schneider Hardware, they work to get the customer “the right item quickest and easiest with the least expense,” he said. “Unlike the big-box stores, where the customer may be sent from one department to another and stand there waiting for service, with a hit-or-miss result, Schneider Hardware is a one-stop service offering uncommon products and inventory along with problem-solving and uncommon solutions.”
And if you need someone to help build a sukkah, look no further than Gerald at Schneider Hardware, who follows in his grandfather’s footsteps. Over the years, he has helped build the B’nai Shalom sukkah, among others, and has helped many township residents to find just the right part to help them put their sukkah up.
Gerald, who manages the inside-the-store sales, buying the supplies and dressing the windows, is “a wealth of knowledge, easy to speak with, and almost always on the premises,” said Roger. “He has the wherewithal to get the job done. If he’s stumped, he’ll call the factory and get back to the customer.”
Going full circle, Gerald, in the business for 40 years, became a self-taught sharpener. He sharpens knives, scissors, lawn mower blades and garden tools.
“Uniquely,” Roger said, “Schneider Hardware rents hand and power tools and will also tell you how to get the job done.” Customers can rent a snake, auger or chainsaw and have window glass or screens repaired. The team at Schneider’s has been doing snow blower and lawn mower repairs for 35 years.
Pipes are precision cut to spec, and window shades and glass are measured and cut on the premises. They cater to plumbing and hardware for older homes 75 to 100-plus years old in Maplewood, Montclair and the Oranges, with lock hardware for older homes and solutions for mortise locks.
The oldest known continually operating hardware store in Essex County, with geographic access to suburbs and New York City, the establishment has seen regular Schneider Hardware customers increasing with do-it-yourselfers. Springtime is the most active season, with customers preparing for their summertime projects. Winter is next, with snowstorms and harsh weather good for business. They sell ice salt, snow shovels and heaters.
Just as Isadore faced obstacles, over time new ones have appeared. First came the big-box stores, which Roger considers “the least of the competition.” Then the pandemic.“We were very lucky to be considered essential, and never forced to close even for one day.” The age of the internet and Amazon radically changed the dynamic for mom-and-pop stores by making goods along with how-to videos readily available. Yet Schneider Hardware weathered the storms and revealed no plans for retirement.
The Schneiders are known for giving back to their community. Roger and Gerald have been integral parts of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce for 30 years. Serving for nine years on the board of the Main Street Development Corporation (now the Downtown West Orange Alliance), their business “actively makes donations to township schools and houses of worship events,” Roger said. He also participates in the Lions Club’s major fundraiser, with proceeds going to schools and camps for vision-impaired citizens.
Roger concluded, on behalf of the Schneider family: “We are very grateful to have served the West Orange community all these years. It allowed us the opportunity to experience and come into contact with people of every possible background from a diverse and multicultural township. … a town that has so much to offer, unlike any other town in all of New Jersey.”
For old-world charm, “step back in time” to the way West Orange used to be and visit Schneider Hardware. Conveniently located at 276 Main Street, with free parking, as their logo says, “Schneider has everything—try us and see!”
Sharon Mark Cohen believes everyone deserves a legacy.