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BEST HARDWARE STORE Minneapolis 1999 -

There, writ large in mottled paint on the side of a semitrailer laid to rest in the back parking lot, Seven Corners Ace Hardware sings its own praises: "The only thing we don't have is floor space." Couldn't say it much better ourselves, except to detail what's taking up room inside. For starters, the first floor's bragging list includes Minnesota's most extensive supply of all things hardware: screws and nails of every variation; plumbing and electric materials; hand tools from pliers to wrenches to hammers; tool belts; knives; bits and blades; every sort of thingamajig you're otherwise likely to find only in some old packrat putterer's tool shed. They've got cheap key- and glass-cutting services as well, at various stations hidden behind ceiling-high stacks of bins and storage shelves that make the place the sort of labyrinth fainthearted claustrophobics should be warned about. Seven Corners conducts heavier-duty business upstairs, where, staffers tell us, the nation's largest power-tool display resides, spread across what looks to be about 3,000 square feet of well-worn tongue-and-groove--hundreds of saws (circular, pull, jig, radial arm, you name it), routers, sanders, drills, compressors, and heat guns galore, and a brand selection (Delta, Makita, DeWalt, Bosch, Milwaukee, Porter Cable...) that can't be beat. This exhibition is really what distinguishes the store, which has been around for more than 65 years. Pick up one of their 550-page "Tools on Sale" catalogs, flip through to the beauty of your choice, eyeball and get a feel for its motion and heft right there on the spot, then buy it or order it to be delivered (they'll pick up all freight, handling, and packing charges). The staff is hands-down the best around, always nearby, thoroughly in-the-know about the wares, full of tips on technique and armaments for first-timers, heavy-duty enthusiasts, and contractors alike. They'll even guide you to the exit door in case you've lost your way out.

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