John Phillips introduced his hardware store to Circuit Ave in 1928, running the shop with his wife. Over the years, the store expanded, buying the restaurant next door. The store has similarly expanded through the generations and is now run by John Phillips’s granddaughters: floor manager Susan Phillips and office manager Donna Leon. Ms. Phillips spoke with The Times about the business she has inherited.
When did you first start taking on responsibilities at the store?
We grew up in the store. When I was younger, my grandmother would give me one thing to order, and that was my product area to keep straight and dust.
What kinds of things have changed about the store over the years?
We have computers now. That makes everything easier. One of the big differences is people come in now with their cell phones and can show us a picture of the part that’s broken. Before that, all they had was their words to describe it, and sometimes it was not happening. So the pictures help.
What are some of the benefits of working with your family?
It’s easy if someone needs to go on vacation. If someone gets sick, we cover each others’ backs. And we get along, so that’s good too.
Is it ever tough working together?
Everybody has bad days. But no, I get along famously with my sister.
What are some of your bestsellers?
It depends on the department, but we do well with paint brushes, and we have the biggest selection of lampshades on the Island.
What is the most rewarding project you have helped a customer with?
I own a balloon business as well, and we put gifts in the balloons. I had one customer put an engagement ring in the balloon, which was kind of fascinating. We haven’t had any proposals in the hardware store though.
How did you start the balloon business?
In 1992, I went to a buying show in Boston with my boyfriend at the time. He saw a rose inside a balloon and he wanted to get me one. We ended up sitting through the whole sales pitch, and a day later, I owned a balloon business. My parents gave us an eight-foot window in the carpet section of the hardware store. We started putting gifts in balloons, then we added cards and gift items. Every year we snagged a little more space in the store, and now we have the whole two aisles.
What’s the biggest challenge of the business?
Parking. For customers and our own employees.
Why do people shop at Phillips?
A lot of people say that our prices are fair. Just yesterday, someone mentioned our Keurig coffee makers are the same price as off-Island stores. We try to have reasonable prices and hopefully have good customer service.
What’s great about your location?
It’s convenient. A lot of people come to the area anyway to get their mail or groceries, so they stop in.
Why did you decide to come back and run your family business?
It’s a lot of pride. It’s nice to carry it on. This town has a lot of businesses that are passed down from generation to generation. The Vineyard itself has that sense of community.
What’s in store for the future of Phillips?
We’re hoping to do some work on the building. Oak Bluffs wants to improve their look and update their buildings, and we’d like to get involved with that.