Fox Hardware

William H. Fox, an Irishman born in 1851, came to America at age 18. By the mid ‘70’s he had established a business as a tin worker in Cincinnati; in 1880, he opened a hardware store at Gilbert and Curtis in Walnut Hills. In addition to the normal tools and mechanics hardware and iron pots and pans, he carried heavier items like stoves, and in 1886 he advertised that he specialized in furnaces and their installation. In 1892, he listed himself as a dealer in hardware and stoves.
William had four sons and two daughters. As each of the boys came of age their father opened a new store – in Norwood, Price Hill, Avondale and downtown – while continuing to run the Walnut Hills store at Gilbert and Curtis. At Gilbert and Curtis, it seems the daughters proved better at the business than the sons; in 1922 Miss Mary Fox served as president, Joseph Fox as vice president, and Miss Hannah Fox as secretary and treasurer of the business. A branch at that time was on Reading Road in Avondale. Later, another son, William Jr., became active in the store. Large corporate competitors like Sears and Roebuck cut in to the valuable tool and general merchandize sales of the local hardware, and Fox retreated to Walnut Hills and a single, somewhat movable branch.
In the late forties, Fox Hardware in Walnut Hills, and at second location farther out Reading, near Galbraith, appeared as locations selling the new Presto Pressure Cooker. This was genuine new post-war hardware to speed up meal preparation for the beginning of the baby boom. A decade later the Enquirer garden section included the Walnut Hills location, and a second Fox store downtown, as suppliers of plants and seeds.
In about 1960, leadership passed to the next generation; William Jr.’s son-in-law Jack Leonard took over the business. As Walnut Hills struggled economically in the 1960’s so did Fox Hardware. The riots late in the decade saw broken windows and looting, but more importantly a fall-off in business especially from white customers. Yet the store rebound over the next decades. Fox joined the True Value hardware buying cooperative, obtaining stock at competitive prices and enjoying the corporation’s advertising and marketing expertise. Jack Leonard embraced the inflation of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s as the saving grace of the business: “As money gets tight, people fix instead of buying new.” Walnut Hills, he thought, was looking up, with a new Kroger’s on the way. But he also noted that most of his business was now in nuts and bolts and similar low-cost household hardware. It would not support another generation.