By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA — The community has lost a retailer who knew his business, his customers and was a World War II hero, a former Oneonta mayor said Tuesday.
John O. Stevens, 94, died Tuesday at A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital in the city, according to a funeral home notice. Stevens Hardware was a family-owned business in Oneonta for 130 years.
“He’s just one of those guys who will be sorely missed,’’ former mayor David Brenner said.
Brenner said Stevens was a member of “the greatest generation,’’ citing the title of the book by journalist Tom Brokaw, who told stories of Americans who came of age during the Great Depression and WWII, then built a modern America.
Stevens served in the Army Air Corps in WWII, was shot down over Italy and escaped twice from prisoner of war camps, Brenner said. After a trip to Italy in more recent years, Stevens talked nostalgically about how friendly farmers there took him to see a field where aircraft parts remained.
In business, Stevens adjusted the stock to reflect retailing changes and gave personal attention to customers, Brenner said. The former mayor said when his father, Lee Brenner, visited, Stevens made a point of sharing an enthusiasm for fishing, particularly on Goodyear Lake.
“I had a soft spot in my heart for John Stevens,’’ Brenner said. “It’s been a pleasure knowing him all these years.’’
In October 2008, Stevens received the “Business of the Year Award’’ presented by the Future for Oneonta Foundation during a Community Leadership Luncheon.T. Waldo Stevens started the store in 1882 at 125 Main St., though the street numbering was different then. In its early days, the store offered services such as changing wagon wheels and sleigh runners.
The store moved to a three-story structure at 153 Main St., which was built in 1896. In the late 1800s, a gas pump was in front of the store.
In the 1940s, lumber companies and building suppliers began to sell hardware and Stevens Hardware cut back on selling general hardware and expanded into selling boats and sporting goods. Through the decades, the store’s stock has ranged from nuts and bolts to camping equipment, snowmobiles, shoes and toys.
The store announced a going-out-of business sale in anticipation of a Nov. 1 closing.
Calling hours will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono Funeral Home, 51 Dietz St., Oneonta, and a service will be at 1 p.m.