Remembering Crisman Hardware

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - by Harmon Jolley
Crisman Hardware letterhead.  Click to enlarge.
Crisman Hardware letterhead. Click to enlarge.

“Ed, when are you going to fix our roof?” asked his wife, Florence. “The last time that it rained, the water dripped through the ceiling onto our Zenith floor radio. The green electric tuning eye looked like that it was shedding tears. I was right in the middle of listening to my favorite radio show, “Secret Storm.” I had to use the goldfish bowl to catch the water. Poor little Midas almost floated right out of his home.”

“OK, OK; I’ll call a hardware store and go buy some nails, a hammer, and roofing, “said her husband, Ed. “Hand me the phone book. Hello? Is this the hardware store? Do you sell roofing? You do? The Anco brand and it’s available in many different colors? Well, do you have black? You do? Well, put some back for me, and I’ll be right down. How will I find your store? So, I just look for the sign with the big pocket knife? OK, I’ll be right down.”

Ed was on his way to Crisman Hardware, a well-known store in downtown Chattanooga for many years. Like the Ellis Restaurant with its animated neon frog sign, and the Town and Country Restaurant with its animated coach sign, Crisman Hardware beckoned customers with distinctive signage. In their case, it was a large pocket knife with the name “Crisman” on the handle.

The hardware shop was founded in 1904 by brothers B.A. and Oscar A. Crisman, who were natives of Winchester, TN. The store’s first address was 425 Market Street near present-day Buehler’s Market and Jack’s Alley.

Since those were the days of real horsepower, the Crismans sold horse collars and other components of harness. Area farmers came to Crisman’s for all of the implements of agriculture, including picks, rakes, and fencing. An old photograph of the store shows that the owners used some of the sidewalk to display their wares.

“Prominent Tennesseans 1796-1938” (Gillum) noted in a biography of B.A. Crisman that “he has one of the largest hardware stores in the South.” By 1938, Crisman Hardware was celebrating its twentieth year in a new, larger store at 511 Market Street. The trademark pocket knife sign moved with the store, and was featured on company letterhead.

The Crisman brothers returned some of the store’s profits to civic interests. Oscar Crisman established Camp Elklore in Franklin County, TN in memory of his son. B.A. Crisman endowed the Crisman Memorial Library at David Lipscomb University in Nashville. The building has since been renovated, and serves as the university’s administration building.

In 1961, Crisman’s merged with Ace Hardware, and moved to 116 North Market Street. Customers continued to come to the 500 block between Market and Broad for hardware, though. The building that housed Crisman’s was demolished for a new Sears Parkade, which allowed folks like the above-mentioned “Ed” to park the car and then shop for tools for various home fix-up projects.

If you have memories of Crisman Hardware, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

"Look for the Big Knife" was the slogan of Crisman Hardware.  Click to enlarge.
"Look for the Big Knife" was the slogan of Crisman Hardware. Click to enlarge.
- photo by courtesy Chattanooga-Hamilton County Library

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