Bruce Stark, Ellen Gabe-Stark and Steven Stark with Bru, the store's mascot. Photo courtesy of Beacon Paint & Hardware
By Jason Cohen
In April a Gofundme was launched to help the struggling Beacon Paint & Hardware on the UWS, but it may be too little too late.
John McNally, a longtime friend of the Stark family, which has owned and operated Beacon Paint for nearly half a century, started the crowdsourcing for them on April 15. As of press time, it had only raised $4,576.
“I don’t want to sound an alarm, but maybe if I said I was going out maybe more people would come and give more,” said co-owner Bruce Stark.
“I wish I had a nickel for every time someone made that comment and plea when they visited Beacon Paint & Hardware,” McNally said on the Gofundme. “If I did, I might not have to do what I am doing here, which is trying to help my friends survive.
“I have been friends with the owners of Beacon for 30 years. This store is an anchor on the Upper West Side! But running a small business these days is harder than ever. My friends at Beacon are being squeezed by big box stores and the internet like never before. They need our help.
“Let’s make sure Beacon stays around for their 120th year and beyond! They are vital to the fabric of the community. We need them. They need us. I hope Beacon never leaves!”
From 1900 to 1940, Beacon Paint was located on the west side of Amsterdam Avenue between 77th and 78th streets. It moved to its current location at 371 Amsterdam in 1940 and in 1971 was sold to Mel Stark.
While Stark, 61, appreciates what his friend is doing for him, he isn’t sure it will help much.
“Right now things are very tough,” Stark said to the West Side Spirit. “Things are more serious than I want to admit. We are staring down a barrel of a gun right now.”
Stark explained this past winter was especially tough. There was very little snow, so shovels, salt and many other supplies went unused. Not to mention, today he is competing with Home Depot, Loews and online retail.
He noted that his accountant thought they would close 10 years ago.
“We’ve always been private people,” he explained. “I don’t like asking, but I need the help.”
Stark along with his siblings, Steven and Ellen Gabe-Stark, grew up in the business. As a child, he would come to work with his dad on the weekends and after graduating from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, he immediately came to work at the store.
Ultimately, he got his first job at the age of 14 and never left. His father taught him how to fix things, treat people, be fair, respectful and to always put customers first.
“I loved every minute of it [working with his dad],” Stark recalled. “He was a good teacher. He explained to me why something was done like that.”
Over the years, Beacon has been an integral part of the community. The Stark family has seen three generations worth of customers and for that loyalty, they have given back.
Among the numerous charitable acts Beacon does every year, includes donating materials needed to clean graffiti off mailboxes and repaint them, giving hundreds of gallons of mismatched paint to non-profit organizations and a “Bucket O’ Tools” to nearly every school in the neighborhood for the annual auction of each school.
For nearly 20 years, Beacon Paint has sponsored a walkathon to benefit various charities, including Guiding Eyes for the Blind, raising thousands of dollars over the years.
“I love this community and the community loves me,” Stark said. “They would rather support the small guy than go to the big box stores.”
While Stark told the Spirit he and his family never go looking for recognition, the store has been honored on more than one occasion.
In 2008, it was New York Small Business of the Year, Paint Dealer Magazine’s North American Paint Dealer of the Year and a Forbes Enterprise Award; being named the number one hardware store on the West Side. Also, in 2011, Beacon Paint was a winner of a WESTY Award from the West Side Spirit.
Stark and his siblings became fulltime owners in 2005. He said working with family is not only easy, but much more enjoyable because he knows he can depend on them.
“I always felt like it was my store,” he said. “We weren’t employees, it’s family.”
With the lease set to expire at the end of January 2020, he isn’t sure what the future holds. He hopes the Gofundme helps, but stressed that the warm months need to bring in business or the end may be near.
“It’s a reality I may have to face,” he said. “Business has to improve.”