Macon Hardware, one of Bedford Stuyvesant’s longest standing Black-owned businesses – and longest-standing businesses in general – will close its doors following the death of its matriarch Clara Hayes, who worked at the store for more than 70 years. The building, which houses Macon Hardware, vintage clothing store Catcistas, and Bey’s Barbershop, has been put on the market, building owner and Clara’s son Warren Hayes told Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner.
“It’s a sad thing, it breaks my heart that I had to do this,” Hayes said. “I mean we’ve been here forever. I don’t even know, people are looking at me like ‘Are you really gonna do that?’”
The decision, he said, came down to the fact there is no one left in his family to help him run the business. Following his mother’s death in March 2022, his brother passed away in November. “I have nobody else to help me. I don’t, I don’t. To be honest with you, this is not where God wanted me to be.”
The building on the corner of Macon Street and Marcus Garvey Boulevard has been in the Hayes family since Clara and her husband, Peter, bought it in 1987. But the couple have a much longer history with the business. Peter, who grew up in the neighborhood, started working at Macon 5 & 10 when he was just 12 years old, Hayes said.
The owner at the time, Polish immigrant Samuel Pelner, took Peter under his wing and became a sort of father figure, Hayes said. Peter’s own father died before he was born.
Pelner had been operating the 5 & 10 store since at least 1930, an old telephone directory and newspaper articles from the time show. In 1916, when the lot was occupied by a butchery, a gas explosion in the basement leveled the entire building and killed five people. The building now on the site was constructed after the explosion.
Hayes said when Pelner and his wife, Jennie, bought the building, they planned to operate the store downstairs and have family join them from Poland and live in the apartments above.
Over time, Pelner and Peter became very close, Hayes said, and Pelner taught his father to be fluent in Hebrew.
“My dad was very fair skinned because his dad was white, so my dad could actually go into Manhattan in the business district and deal with Jewish people there and they didn’t really know what he was,” Hayes laughed. “He spoke Hebrew so well, and he’s been around them so well, that he taught their son part of the bar mitzvah ceremony.”
While Peter was working at the store, he met Clara – who had recently arrived from North Carolina – and they fell in love. She started working at Macon 5 & 10 with Peter and the couple maintained a very good relationship with the Pelners. After working there for many years, Hayes said his parents wanted to buy a house in the neighborhood, but at the time it was challenging for Black people to buy in the area. The Pelners bought a house on MacDonough and had their son sell it to the Hayes family.
As the Pelners got older, the Hayes took over the running of the store and eventually bought the business from the founders. Then, in 1987, Clara and Peter decided to buy the entire building at 339 Macon Street.
“The store has always been part of my life,” Hayes said. “All I ever knew was the store: My dad would pick me up from school, pick me up at lunchtime and bring me here, and I would eat lunch with my dad and then he would take me back to school. We did that for a couple of years and then he started me at private school…near Pratt Institute.”
After studying at Long Island University, Hayes became a flight attendant for Delta based out of Atlanta – a career he just retired from after 45 years. Meanwhile, his parents continued to operate the hardware store. His father eventually got sick and passed away, and his mother continued to run the business on her own.
Over the years, Clara became a beloved neighborhood fixture. “It’s home with us. It’s home,” she told CBS in 2019. “My customers come in and they all know me, they know me as family. They call me Mother Hayes,” she told Pix11 in 2021.
Around a decade ago, Hayes, who has a son and two grandsons in Atlanta, saw his mother needed help running the store so he came to live with her in Brooklyn and changed his flight routes to take off from JFK. During that period, his main route was New York to Senegal. He said he ended up getting so acquainted with people in Senegal and the country itself that he bought some land there and built a house.
Meanwhile, Clara continued to run Macon Hardware with her son’s help and that of her longtime friend Catherine Solomon, who volunteered there. She kept the store open through the many changes in the neighborhood, and managed to do so through the pandemic.
In March 2022, at the age of 93 and still working at the store, Clara passed away.
At the time, Solomon told Patch that Clara’s magnetic personality was what kept new and old neighbors coming back. “People used to come just to see the two old ladies — that was us. People would tell her their problems and she would try to help as much as she could.”
Solomon and Hayes kept the store running after Clara’s death, until Hayes’ brother, who lived in Bed-Stuy, died in November. Solomon and Hayes continued to keep the store open over the holiday period but now, Hayes said, it is time for the family to part with the property.
“Sometimes you just have to make decisions and you just don’t know if they’re right or they’re wrong,” he said.
“You know, everything has changed here. So yes, it breaks my heart to do that, but on the other hand most of these people, I don’t really know. I don’t know them, and it’s not that I don’t like them. I just don’t know them. The people that have moved into this neighborhood have been very nice to me and my mom. They’ve been very supportive of us, supported the neighborhood, the businesses in the neighborhood. We tried to be kind and loving and they’ve been kind and loving back to us.”
He said he felt sympathy for the people in the neighborhood who had been here “forever and ever.” “A lot of people that have moved I really feel for them because they had to move. Some people say, well, people came and they offered them you know, money that was crazy and they took the money and ran with it. Well, maybe some people did that but other people, there’s some older people that might have really wanted to stay. But when the taxes and everything went up, they couldn’t pay the taxes. All these expenses for this and that.”
Hayes said he put the building on the market late last month, and now it is just a matter of waiting to see what happens next. The building sits inside Bed-Stuy’s historic district and cannot be altered without the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Once it sells, Hayes said, he plans to return to Atlanta to spend time with his son and grandsons. He said he would be back in Bed-Stuy, but will largely split his time between Atlanta and Senegal, where he said he will build a community center on the farmland where he built his house. A lot of the children in the area don’t have the funds to attend school, he said.
“So that’s my next project,” he said.
This story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner.