McLendon Hardware’s founding father gave us more than a name. He lived for customer satisfaction; grew a business with foresight and tenacity; and refused to be swindled by predatory sales-folks. These days, the latter are handled with more nuance than his previous habit of wielding an axe at the negotiating table, but you get the idea. McLendon Hardware is built on the foundation of legendary customer service and tremendous product selection laid down by Moses Jones McLendon.
Customers of a certain age may recall a somewhat gruff fellow who greeted them at the flagship Renton store. For 50 hours a week, he manned the front desk, decked in striped overalls, chewing a hand-rolled cigar, dutifully answering calls—albeit with a bit of a bark down the line. His job? By that time, it was simply to make certain every customer was finding what they needed, every time.
That’s Pop. Moses Jones “MJ” (later known as “Pop”) McLendon founded a company that would become a chain of seven stores, serving the Puget Sound area for nearly 90 years. His ability to understand his neighbors' changing habits, and fill his stores with everything they didn’t yet know they’d need, made him a great business man and an even greater founder.
Born in 1892, as the eldest of a half-dozen children in rural Tennessee, the McLendon family’s needs soon outgrew their means. Offering his parents one less mouth to feed, 14-year-old MJ left home, walking his way to Texas in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains.
He joined a travelling crew of wheat threshers as they moved slowly northward, following the harvest from Texas to Canada. Eventually MJ made his way to the Great White North and became a charge of the Canadian government as a land surveyor. Despite hard days and nights in the saddle, MJ stayed on, mapping more than 2,000 miles of the Peace River.
With the onset of the First World War, MJ volunteers his service to the Canadian army. He ships to Belgium and is entrenched at the Western Front. After three years on the front line, MJ is medically discharged from service having suffered repeated mustard gas exposure. He spends two years recovering in English infirmaries before returning to Canada.
Upon his arrival to Alberta in 1920, MJ meets and courts Helen Emery, a daughter of emigrants from the Iowan plains. The newlyweds decide to leave behind the frigid Canadian winters for temperate climes in Portland, Ore. Helen’s mother and father, George Emery, soon follow.
After the birth of two children, the McLendons and Emerys head north for their final destination, a burgeoning coal town called Renton. The year is 1923.
MJ finds work hauling wood and coal through the burgeoning town of 20,000 gritty miners. His father-in-law, George, saves up and purchases a second-hand junk shop. Together he and MJ begin operating the U.S. Junk Co., in 1926.
They sell anything worth buying, new or used. Together George and MJ traverse the highlands and lowlands of Renton, buying pots, pans, car parts and glass jars from anyone willing to sell. The two men and their horse-drawn carriage become a common sight. Liking a good haggle and enjoying the art of negotiation, MJ proves himself as a self-taught businessman.
Not easy to begin with, life becomes even starker as the stock market crashes in 1929, sinking the country into The Great Depression. Despite that, U.S. Junk Co. manages a successful business model, keeping business in the black by reselling used (and fumigated) mattresses and Mason jars, in high demand for homemakers and moonshiners alike. Anything that can be cleaned and resold is valuable to the McLendons and sought after by their customers.
During these difficult years, the whole family works to make U.S. Junk Co. a success. Helen runs the books, MJ wheels and deals and their young kids stock shelves, with oil pencils in-hand. Never one to miss an opportunity, MJ jumps at the chance to become a business owner in 1934. It’s the beginning (as if we hadn’t already begun) of the name McLendon in hardware.
Today, the cigars are gone from the stores, but striped overalls remain. And the enduring legacy of customer satisfaction and product selection that made MJ a success lives on.
Going from junk store to neighborhood treasure takes time. Meander down memory lane in black and white and watch as McLendon Hardware evolves from second-hand store to the first-mentioned place when it comes to finding what you’re looking for.
Our Beginning in Renton
Moses Jones “MJ” McLendon’s father-in-law, George Emery, saves up and purchases a second-hand store, U.S. Junk Co. in Renton, Wa.
The Name McLendon in Hardware
With a handshake and $500, MJ strikes a deal with local hardware store owner, Carl Dale, becoming co-owner of Dale & McLendon, also in Renton.
A Time for Growth
A passing of the guard arrives with the death of George Emery. U.S. Junk Co. closes for good and inventory moves to Dale & McLendon.
The Name Sticks
MJ’s young son, Ted, begins referring to his dad as “Pop.” The name sticks, and MJ’s legacy is forever associated with this homespun moniker.
The Dawn of DIY
In the wake of the Great Depression and during the frugality of WWII, a new emphasis is placed on “doing it yourself.” Dale & McLendon transitions to carrying only new merchandise, including electrical and plumbing supplies and paints.
Family in the Business
Pop’s eldest boys, Bob and Ted, now in their teens, begin their careers spending 50-hour weeks at Dale & McLendon, all while finishing high school.
Experts Come on Board
Pop hires his first non-family member, plumber Harold O’Hara, to provide on-hand expertise to serve the growing DIY customer base.
A Singular Goal
Now a neighborhood mainstay, Pop buys out Dale’s interest and becomes sole proprietor, creating McLendon Hardware, Inc.
Excellence in Overalls
Soon after, Pop retires as general manager. His position shifts to the seat at the front of the store, always with his hand-rolled cigars packed with Bull Durham tobacco.
Learning from the Best
A third generation of McLendons dons their stripes. Bob’s daughter, Gail, and Ted’s son, Mike, enter the business, learning the biz from back to front.
Heading Due South
The Sumner store opens.
Growing Behind the Scenes
Pop purchases a Renton warehouse to buy in bulk to offer better deals. Known as B & T Wholesale Distributors, named for Bob and Ted, the warehouse continues to be a lynchpin of the company’s success.
Neighbors Rally Around Us
A faulty extension cord sparks a blaze that rips through the Renton store, transforming everything into embers. Sales receipts, personnel files and hand-written extensions of credit were lost to the fire. Rallying in support of the longstanding neighborhood store, community members send in checks with notes detailing outstanding debts, while pledging their continued patronage.
In Good Company
The Woodinville store opens.
We Did It
The Puyallup store opens.
A Story for the Westside
The White Center store opens.
Building on Our Success
The Kent store opens.
A Huge Opening
The Tacoma store opens.
The New McLendons.com
The new McLendons.com launches in 2019. Continuing the tradition of legendary customer service and product selection.