The staff of Milton's True Value (L-R): Darin Youlio, Tom Sorrentino, Cory Rhynehart, Donna Horneman, owner Jeff Paladino, Dave Wiley and Lia Raguseo. Not pictured: Brian Bramley, Joe Delforno, Frank Harpolis and Adam Thoby. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Jeff Paladino, owner of Milton True Value on Route 9W and also a councilman for the Town of Lloyd, has turned a family-owned business into a one-stop shop for contractors, homeowners, landscapers, gardeners and even for those planning a backyard party or event.

Despite the economy having been circling the drain for several years running, Paladino saw the writing on the wall with the proliferation of big-box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot and decided to invest in the expansion of his store, as well as diversifying its product line, services and repairs.

The now-5,000-square-foot store, which could inspire any layperson to want to transform his or her home and garden, started out as a real Mom-and-Pop hardware store connected to the Paladinos’ Country Fresh Farm Market. “We ran the hardware shop, which officially became a True Value shop in 1985,” explained the councilman. “But we also ran the fresh farm market, because we had a substantial apple farm [Hudson Valley Farms] and supplied the market with fresh produce, grocery items, gourmet items, baked goods, cheeses…”

Having grown up working on the farm and for the two family businesses that were side-by-side, in 1995 Paladino took over True Value and his parents sold the Farm Market. “We were a local convenience hardware store at that time,” he said. “I knew we had to do more to become a destination store, and to keep our customers and attract more customers, contractors and landscapers.”

To that end, Paladino took over the farm market, which was sold by the “new” owner in 2001, doubling the size of the store. He then brought in Benjamin Moore Paint and used the new space to expand “our core hardware store into a full-service hardware store.”

In 2005, he recognized that, as his customer base was growing, in order for it to continue to grow and include larger contractors he had “to make some additional changes.” Those changes included purchasing the other two stores in the plaza and bringing in Benjamin Moore as a signature store.

“It was funny, because when we brought in Benjamin Moore as a signature store, I didn’t realize how loyal people were to that name and product line. I had regular customers who had always been our customers come in and say, ‘I’m so happy you have Benjamin Moore! Now I can get all of my paint here too!’”

Paladino and his loyal staff of 14 — most of whom have been working there for ten, 15, nearly 20 years — underwent a costly-but-necessary full computerization in 2007. He brought in Just Ask Rental: a division of True Value that provides rental equipment for contractors and homeowners undergoing projects that require specific or heavier machinery that they might not have need for or access to, except during a particular season or for a specialized project. “That really helped to round off the core hardware businesses,” he said, noting that as the economy started to take a turn for the worse, many homeowners began to take on more responsibility for repairs and projects around their home that in the past they might have hired someone to do.

“We needed to have everything both a contractor and a homeowner might need or want to do a project, big or small,” he said. “And our staff is very skilled — each one with areas of expertise — so that we’re not only here to provide the necessary equipment and paint and nuts and bolts, but we can also help walk the homeowner through a project or a situation they’re having that they need to address and fix.”

“I’m proud to say that one thing that sets us apart from big-box stores is our excellent staff and the way they help service our customers. They will go to whatever length they can to help a customer, answer questions…and we listen to our customers. They’re one of the biggest reasons that we add new product lines or bring in certain equipment to rent or to sell.”

More people are turning toward backyard celebrations for graduation, anniversaries, parties, even weddings. So Milton True Value has invested in tents, chairs, tables, vintage popcorn machines, cotton candy and snow-cone machines and jumpy houses, and will deliver them, set them up, break them down and take them back for party patrons. The store has pool gear, Merrell shoes, Carhartt apparel, a greenhouse and just about everything that one might need — or not know that one needs until walking into the store.

Paladino has recently constructed a new 4,000-square-foot building in the back and brought in David Wiley of Valley Power Equipment, who joined the operation this March. “Dave’s a great guy who has been in the small-engine-repair business for many years, with a wonderful reputation,” said Paladino. What Wiley does is to repair large and small lawnmowers, snowplows, chainsaws, mini-excavators, landscaping machinery and the like: “basically-small-to-medium engine repairs and servicing, to keep people’s equipment running and in excellent condition. We’re really happy to have him here – and again, it’s just another service we can provide to become that destination stop for people.”

Asked what set Milton True Value apart from the big-box stores, Paladino didn’t hesitate: “Customer service and a quality staff. I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear — and I’m grateful to hear this often — a customer, old or new, thanking me or a staff member for helping them with whatever it was they were looking for or needed. We’re the kind of business that knows everyone by name.” ++