50 big ones at Best Built Builders

Former co-owner ‘Tin Lady’ Leila Crockett shares five decades of hardware memories.
Leila Crockett and crew
Leila Crockett, center, and the crew standing in Best Built Builders, her workplace for five decades.

Leila Crockett has worked for the same hardware store in Idaho for 50 years.

It was about time to party.

“On my recent anniversary, the store invited the town in to help celebrate. I got lots of presents from TAL Holdings and I even got a gold hammer from Do it Best and from Estwing. I was overwhelmed.”

Some store history: The Crockett family started the hardware store in Orofino, in 1928.

“That little store took on a lumber yard and moved locations in 1958. That is the store that Leila Crockett started work in,” said Ian Stemrich, manager of Best Built Builders, a Do it Best dealer.

The Crockett’s went on to own four other building supply and hardware stores in Idaho and built their new store. They service Orofino, Grangeville, Kamiah and Lewiston along with many outlying towns.

Leila Crockett and her husband bought out his father in the early 1970s after rebuilding from the fire that destroyed the business.

“In 1972 my husband asked me to come in and help with various things, but I had a baby so was taking some time off, when he begged me to come to work full time. I mainly did the bookkeeping responsibilities,” she said.

Having a love of working with people, she said, “I did more with sales and I became the expert in selling metal roofing.”

She still works with the contractors to this day.

“They all call me the ‘Tin Lady.’ It wasn’t easy gaining the trust of them since I was a woman.”

50 years in hardware

From across five decades at her business, Crockett shared some of her favorite stories about customers.

“A long time ago when women wore dresses and nice shoes to work, a contractor called and ordered from me a skid of rebar. We didn’t have any and it was before cell phones so I went to the jobsite to tell him that it would be there first thing in the morning dropped off by our supplier,” she said.

“As I walked through the mud up to my knees. He came screaming and cussing toward me telling me he needed it first thing. I got right back in his face and yelled back at him.

“He stopped and looked at me and asked if he was being a jerk and I replied, ‘Yes and you are really good at it.’ When I got back to the store there were flowers for me from my favorite jerk and we became fast friends.”

Another time, she said, the store was having a customer appreciation BBQ.

“I was telling everyone that no one would be able to ruffle my feathers that day, I was going to be nice all day.

“This one contractor turned sculptor said he would believe it when he saw it. The day arrived and he was one of the first contractors I saw. He did everything he could to push my buttons and make me curse at him but all I did was smile and say, ‘that’s nice.’

“I was busy doing something and he came up behind me and planted a big kiss right on my mouth. I turned around cussing at him and he just smiled and said, ‘I won.’

“He is also the one who came into the store with his wife. He had a real scraggly beard and I looked at him and said, ‘You look like a Brillo pad with eyes.’ His wife called me later happy because he had shaved,” said Crockett.

Everyone in town knows Leila is an animal lover.

Leila and Ian ed
Best Built Builders manager Ian Stemrich and Leila, who hopes to keep coming to work “making people laugh,” she said.

“We have a contest at Christmas where you bring your dog in to sign up for our doggy stocking full of treats and toys, so we can give them a treat and hug them,” she said.

“We draw out one big dog and one small dog as winners. Then we send at least one dollar for each dog that came in to the local Humane Society. We write a thank you letter to each dog for supporting their less fortunate kin,” said Crockett.

The five-decade worker said that one day the employees in the warehouse called her on the intercom yelling for her to get back there now.

“I asked why, and they said Mr. Brown, an old farmer, brought his favorite Billy Goat in to see me and he was pooping all over their yard. I did not get employee of the month that day,” she laughed.

Hardware today

One big change in the industry today, for her, is in technology.

“We used to keep our accounting records on ledger cards and handwritten statements. All our checks were written on the typewriter, and we did payroll by hand on the calculator,” she said.

Another thing that has changed is the plumbing department.

“They used copper pipe and soldered it together. Now they use plastic and SharkBite fittings,” said Crockett.

Kitchen appliances have grown over the years. “It seems they have an appliance to do everything now. I do miss people just coming in to visit. It seems everyone is too busy now to talk to their neighbors,” she said.

The only way to last 50 years in this industry, she said, is to like people and like what you do, and we have a great crew.

“For a long time, I was the only girl working in the store with all those men. I learned that most men don’t like to squabble like females do,” said Crockett. “They would all bend over backwards to help me and to make sure I wasn’t carrying something too heavy. They all used to call me mom, now they all call me grandma.”

Call her Tin Lady, or grandma, she doesn’t really have plans for the future.

“My husband is in a nursing home now and that puts an end to our plans to travel. I am certainly a people person and I need some structure in my life, so it is good for me to come here every day,” she said.

Maybe soon she’ll cut back and only work four days a week.

Leila said, “I am thankful for the opportunity to keep coming here and hopefully making people laugh.”

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