VOL. 124 | NO. 215 | Monday, November 2, 2009
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
Hamilton’s Fireplace Shop Keeps Winter at Bay
By Tom Wilemon
TIME TESTED: Jim Hamilton, who owns Hamilton’s Fireplace Shop with his wife, Katrina Hamilton, has been in the business for 35 years. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON
Except for the chimney, Hamilton’s Fireplace Shop has just about anything required to turn an empty hearth into the heart of a home.
Gas-burning logs, glass screens, decorative covers, hand-carved mantles, distinctive dog-irons and decorative bric-a-brac all adorn the shop. The display areas stretch back far enough to get lost in, but the people running the place can help shoppers find their way through. Jim Hamilton knows the answers to shoppers’ questions because he’s been running the business for 35 years.
“Most people who come in here have been someplace else where they can’t get the answers from someone who is not in it all the time,” he said. “When they hit our door, they’ve got a lot of questions. They really want professional answers.”
He and his wife, Katrina Hamilton, work at the business at 4462 Summer Ave. in Berclair along with three of their four children. It’s an old-fashioned mom-and-pop operation.
Formerly a hardware store, the building still has weathered wood and concrete floors. The Hamiltons don’t have a Web site. They provide customer service one person at a time – without high-pressure sales pitches.
“You come in here and you stay in here and drift through and get ideas on stuff,” Jim Hamilton said. “People will stay in here three or four hours and they are not bothered. Here, we don’t really bother people. We would rather them come through and not be hounded all the time.”
The business originated as a fireplace shop, but over the years has expanded into offering outdoor grills and patio accessories. The people coming into the store these days have winter on their minds.
If this year’s cycle of cooler, wetter and stormier weather holds, Memphians could be in for a harsh one.
“Almost every home in Memphis, if the electricity goes out, people do not have any backup heat source in their house,” Hamilton said. “I have preached about this for years and years and years. Most everyone, if they have a fireplace in their home, they should have at least one set of vent-free gas logs in that fireplace and keep them maintained. If we have another front-line wind at 80 or 100 miles per hour in December or January or February when it is so cold and it knocks power out, that vent-free log would come on no matter what. It does not use electricity. It only uses gas. That may be the only thing that would keep a house from freezing up.”
Hamilton gives advice when asked. He doesn’t blast the airwaves with advertisements and depends on word-of-mouth to drive sales. That’s one advantage of having been in business for 35 years.
Trends are hard to nail down with fireplaces, Hamilton said, because people set them up according to their personal tastes.
“Everyone is different and has different ideas about what they want,” he said.
Hamilton established an affinity for fireplaces when he was in college. He first set up shop in the Raleigh Springs Mall, then moved to the shop’s current location at the northwest corner of the intersection of Summer Avenue and Berclair Road. He rented space there, later bought the building and since has acquired adjacent lots to the point that Hamilton’s Fireplace now has about a 4-acre footprint.
But he started out with only a $5,000 line of credit – a loan that he used to buy inventory.
“If you believe in yourself and you know what direction you want to go in and you’re sure of the direction you want to go in, never ever give up on your dream,” Hamilton said. “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t make it.”
He was orphaned at 17 and worked his way through college.
“I worked so hard when I was 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 that I didn’t really get to a lot of ballgames,” Hamilton said. “I made money and I saved money.”
One of those jobs was drawing fireplace patterns while in college.
Hamilton’s Fireplace Shop
Co-owners: Jim and Katrina Hamilton
Location: 4462 Summer Ave.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays
“Every fireplace was always different,” he said. “Nothing was a cookie cutter. It was very interesting – not for most people, just for me. From that point, it became a business.”
He had to borrow money to start the business because he spent all he had saved on his education.
“I just kind of made my own job,” Hamilton said. “I just created a job for me. You don’t think about it then, but I’ve created a job for my family and the different ones that’s worked here.”