Dominick Lionetti knows the value of hard work.
The owner of Weber’s Hardware in Wallkill took his first official job in eighth grade, working at the grocery store with his father. Before that, he took odd jobs mowing lawns and shoveling snow.
A Bronx native, Lionetti moved to Wallkill in 1997 to raise his daughter, Nicole. He took ownership of the store on Jan. 1, 2006.
Lionetti said he liked the small-town feel, complete with holiday activities and community events. He used to judge house lights at Christmas. His favorite event was Halloween, when children and even adults would dress up.
“It was a cute little town, it really was,” Lionetti said.
Lionetti has worked in retail all his life, from the grocery store to the automobile industry and his current venture at the hardware store.
“Everything was always one-on-one retail,” Lionetti said. “I was always directly dealing with the customer.”
His favorite part of the industry: building a relationship with the people he serves.
“I like people,” Lionetti said. “I like talking to people and helping people.”
Robert Malatesta owns Rob’s Pizza next door and is a long-time friend of Lionetti. He said Lionetti has always been a friendly neighbor and a friendly face to his customers.
“He’s always helping people,” Malatesta said.
Lionetti also liked mentoring young workers, when the store still had employees.
“That was also a sad part of it, because I used to enjoy all the personalities and the fun everybody would have,” Lionetti said.
Nicole was one of those long-time employees, helping her father since she was eight years old by working in the store after school and on breaks. She currently attends the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, making her father proud. She just started an internship with DreamWorks.
Running a small business comes with its sacrifices. Lionetti works between 65 and 70 hours per week at a store that is open 74 hours, working nights and weekends.
“The challenge of any small business owner is the hours and dedication you have to put in and sometimes the personal sacrifice of missing a football game or family event, or going to your doctor because, well, you just have to be there,” Lionetti said.
Despite the doctor’s warnings, Lionetti also worked while undergoing six months of chemotherapy treatments for Non-Hodgins lymphoma. He has been in remission for the last two years.
“I just could not afford to not be here,” Lionetti said.
Lionetti’s life philosophy is simple: work hard; treat others as you would like to be treated; have your own moral code and stick to it; and you work for yourself, not your employer. If you work hard, you’ll be able to reap the rewards.
“The reward is just knowing you did it on your own,” Lionetti said. “At the end of it all, this happened because of you.”
But the risk of a small business is that business can dry up. Lionetti plans to close the store in the next few weeks. He said he hopes the building will find another owner that will give it a new life.
Malatesta said it’s a shame to lose another business in a hamlet that has so few, and can’t seem to retain many, new or old.
“I’ve been here 28 years and all I see is businesses close and close, nothing opening. When I first was here, the place was booming, there was businesses everywhere, and now it’s getting progressively worse,” Malatesta said. “[Weber’s Hardware] has just been a staple in town forever, and it’s very unfortunate it’s coming to an end.”
An appreciation dinner for Weber’s Hardware will be held on Feb. 12, at 6 p.m. at Nu CAVU restaurant, Plains Road. The cost is $20 per person, including tax and tip. To reserve your spot, contact Bob Garrison at 926-8055.
The building has had many lives over the years. Harold Van Aken, Historical Society of Gardiner member and Gardiner trustee, said the building began as a gas station, complete with a pit for changing oil. That pit is behind the counter of the store today, covered with a piece of plywood.
Its next incarnation was as a school administration office. Then, in the 1960s, the building became a Western Auto, selling auto parts, bicycles and appliances. In 1968, Alan and Dave White bought the building to open White Brothers Hardware. They purchased supplies from Chase Hardware across the street before it went out of business.
Lionetti purchased the building in 1992.