Meenehan’s Hardware store was a fixture in the Georgetown community from the 1930’s until 1983. The Meenehan family owned several Hardware stores in D.C. and Virginia. Long-time residents from mid-century will certainly remember the advertising jingle, sung over and over on the morning radio show of Harden and Weaver on WMAL.
“Meenehan, the hardware man, the hardware man is Meenehan.”
Meenehan’s in Georgetown had a reputation as being a wonderful place to do business. John Meenehan, Sr. opened the first store on 14th street in the early 20’s. His son, John Jr. opened the Georgetown store at 3214 M Street in the 30’s. In an interview with Patrick Meenehan, one of John’s sons, he tells Cathy Farrell many beloved stories of Meenehan’s interactions with dedicated shoppers. Patrick exhibits genuine fondness for the people with whom he worked and those he served which included students from the university as well as many of the dignitaries who lived here in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
Interviewer: We are recording today in the library at Gettysburg College. I am interviewing Mr. Patrick Meenehan, who is associated with the Meenehan Hardware Store industry in Georgetown, and we’ll get started.
Patrick Meenehan: Wonderful.
Interviewer: Are they both running? Let me see. The little light goes off but I think they are. Peak. Peak. Yes. We’re go.
Interviewer: Thank you so much for joining me today. I’ll just turn you loose and let you start looking at some of these photographs and if you want to talk about some of the documents you’ve brought with us, we’ll spend the next hour reliving an ancient past.
Pat: Indeed. Let’s see. I worked for my dad in his store in Falls Church, while I was in high school. Then after I got out of college and out of the Navy, Dad simply said, “Now it’s time for you to go to work.” He sent me first to the new store that he had opened in Reston, Virginia. Reston was a brand new town at that time, it was one of the only instances where they built a town where nothing was.
There was nothing but farmland there when they started it, and I worked out there for a while. Shortly thereafter, I became the company fireman, I suppose. That being, wherever there was a screaming need for a manager, that’s where I went. Over the years, I worked all five of the stores. He had the one in Falls Church, one in Reston, one in Oxon Hill, also known as the “Bucket of Blood.”
There was another one up in Bethesda, Maryland. Whenever they had a problem with a manager, or with something significant, then I would get a phone call. The best one was when I was in Georgetown, as a matter of fact.
Dad called me up and he said, “Are you busy?” I said, “No, sir. What can I do to help?” He said, “I just fired everybody at the store at Eastover and Oxen Hill, and could you come out here like a good boy and hire and train a new staff?”
I was there for the better part of a year, but my most favorite place to be was in Georgetown. Dad had bought the hardware store.
Interviewer: Dad’s first name?
Pat: John Francis Meenehan, Jr., and Sr. was his dad, and my brother was the third.
Interviewer: There were three Johns.
Pat: There were three Johns.
Interviewer: Sr., Jr., and third.
Pat: And the third. Because of my father’s love of Bozo Snyer, when my brother Bo was born, my brother got the Bozo that was supposed to be for me, that granddad forbade. My brother’s name was John Frances Meenehan III, but he always went by Bo or Bozo.
Interviewer: He’s the Bo Meenehan, all right.
Pat: He’s the Bo Meenehan, and there were many permutations on the name like, “Me Bonehan,” and, “Hand me a bone,” etc. He was quite a fixture in Arlington, Virginia, where we grew up. I first lived in Cleveland Park, near the National Zoo, and when I was four or thereabouts, I got run over dragging a fruit crate across the street to the playground to build a fort.
Dad decided to move us out to Arlington, Virginia, which at that time was out in the woods.
Interviewer: What time are we talking about? Can you give me a date?
Pat: Let’s see. I was born in ’46, I think we moved to Arlington in 1950 or ’51, and that’s where we lived until my mother passed. I think we bought the house for $40,000, back in the early ’50s, and when my mother passed, they sold the house for $2 million.
Interviewer: Wow, a big difference.
Pat: The guy that bought the house knocked it down and built a new one. Getting back to Georgetown, Dad had purchased the hardware store from an Irishman named Malloy.
Interviewer: It was a hardware store before?
Pat: It was a hardware store before it was Meenehan’s hardware.
Interviewer: Do you know when he purchased it, the approximate year?
Pat: No, I don’t. It was before me.
Interviewer: It was before 1946?
Pat: ’46, yes. It was before that. There’s always colorful anecdotes that go along with it. When he made the agreement to purchase the hardware store from Mr. Malloy, Malloy took Dad back into the back and opened up the bottle of whiskey, and poured two jiggers of whiskey, and they drank on the agreement.
Dad says, “Don’t I need to fill out some papers or something like that?” Malloy’s answer was, “Ain’t me, we’re good.” The paperwork followed later, but it was a wonderful place to be, because it had been two houses before it became the hardware store.
Interviewer: Residential homes?
Pat: Yes, and so it was two houses made into one hardware store with an incredible backyard, where because we had no rear access for deliveries, everything came through the front door, which was always exciting because we were right there on M Street across from Clyde’s. That was a happening place, almost all the time.
We had to do some interesting things for freight deliveries and things like that, we built a trap door and a chute to drop stuff down into the basement. We had an industrials division that was run by a man named Clarence Quentin Knight, and Clarence was on the Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.
He had some cred with a lot of people, especially Ben Bradley. They were just as tight as ticks, for whatever the reason, I’m not sure, but Clarence had come to the Georgetown store from my dad’s first big store, which was up at 14th and U Streets.
Interviewer: Is this picture 14th and U, or is this Georgetown?
Pat: 14th and U.
Interviewer: All right, I couldn’t identify it. That’s a picture of the 14th and U interior.
Pat: It had the rolling ladders, the wooden bins and things like that, and it was a four story building that had a freight elevator, which was a wonderful thing for a kid to manipulate at that time. How my dad made most of his money was, in the day, Meenehan’s Hardware had franchises on thing like Valspar paint, Kem‑Tone paint, Scott’s lawn products, Black & Decker tools…
Interviewer: There is different products.
Pat: …sporting goods, and things like that. I think, at that time, when I was messing up Clarence’s cash register when he was…he never forgave me for that. At that time Meenehan’s Hardware had radio jingles, and they sponsored all kinds of different things.
Dad was friends with a guy named Tony Wakeman, who was a radio and TV personality. He was hoppity‑skippity, and no, he had nothing to do with being a clown, I don’t think, but he was a force of nature. At that time…I digress.
Interviewer: That’s all right, [inaudible 12:50] .
Pat: At that time, if you wanted GE lightbulbs in DC, they came from Meenehan’s Hardware.
Pat: Exclusively, and the kicker was that all of the inventory for almost all of those products was consigned. We didn’t have to pay for it until they came and inventoried it, and gave us a bill for what we had sold.
Pat: Yeah. That was something that I never really understood as a kid, but later on I did understand how that worked. Back to the origin of Meenehan’s, like I said, Dad wanted to be an vaudeville. Granddad forbade it. Granddad made his money from a bar that he owned on Capitol Hill. He was quite well off.
Dad was born here in ’03, on a business trip from Ireland to the US. Then after Dad was born and got big enough to travel, they went back to Ireland. That’s where Dad grew up.
Interviewer: Oh, he did? He grew up in Ireland.
Pat: Yeah, he grew up in Ireland. I found out late in life that my father and my namesake, my uncle Maurice, were both shot in the Easter Rebellion in Northern Ireland. Dad, because of his having been born in the US, had American citizenship, so he was able to carry messages for the IRA from one town to the next, and then bring back.
Every day after school he would get a sock full of messages from the Christian Brother in that town. Then Dad would bicycle from Ballinroad to Connemara, and he would exchange his sockful of messages and get another sockful of messages to bring back to Ballinroad. Because he had American citizenship, he could not be stopped or detained by the Brits.
My grandmother was in the first Trouble, and she was educated and went to church in a cave. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the “Out of Ireland.”
Interviewer: No, I have not.
Pat: It was narrated by Kelly McGillis and it had to do with the first Trouble, where the Brits basically tried to eradicate the Irish race. Dad hated the Brits until his dying day. I remember he got a houndstooth, all wool bathrobe from Mom for Christmas. Dad took it out of the box, saw the little tag that said, “Made in England,” put it right back in the box.
Interviewer: Was not to be had.
Interviewer: That’s how it went, OK. [laughs]
Pat: Getting back to the hardware store in Georgetown. We were a service type of hardware store. It wasn’t something where you just walk in and pick out what you want. There was clerks there to help you with whatever your need was, whether it be rat traps, paint, or nuts and bolts, whatever.
We also were very accommodating. If there was something that one of our customers wanted that we didn’t happen to have, we got it for him. That was part of the service.
Interviewer: I’ve also heard from others that at times you actually performed the service in their homes.
Pat: Yes. That was true. I think the methodology was we treated our customers the same way that we would treat family. If, for whatever the reason, you weren’t capable of doing this, that, or the other, we would do that.
Interviewer: You would do it for them?
Interviewer: You actually became not only the supplier of the plumbing supplies, but the plumber.
Interviewer: Did you charge extra for that service, or was it just included in your…?
Pat: It was gratis.
Interviewer: It was gratis. Wow.
Pat: It was one of those things where if you couldn’t afford to hire a plumber, for instance, we weren’t going to leave the customer hanging if it was simply a matter of changing out the innards of a flush toilet or something like that.
The industrials, that were run by Clarence Knight, were very much the same. We had almost all of the janitorial business in DC. I think dad, when he had the big store on 14th Street, I think he had six delivery trucks. They were going all the time. The maintenance was done by a wonderful little garage up near 14th and U, called Al’s Super Service.
Pat: Al’s motto was, “Sudden service.”
Interviewer: He was right there.
Pat: Right there on the building. Sudden service. This was before lifts and things like that. There was a grease pit. On and on like that. There was an absolute treasure trove of wonderment all around there. When I was six years old, I could go anywhere.
Interviewer: At 16th and U?
Pat: At 14th and U.
Interviewer: 14th and U.
Pat: Anywhere, day or night.
Interviewer: You were perfectly fine.
Pat: Yeah. Perfectly fine. I learned a lot from other cultures, not counting old man Zaversky, who had his very own language. He would say things like, “Shut the door wide open,” which meant, “You left the door open. Shut it.” Don’t fight and on and on. His son swore me in to the Navy.
Pat: Interestingly enough. Old man Zaversky made the boat compasses that went in all the lifeboats on the Navy ships.
Interviewer: Right there at 14th and U Street?
Pat: Dad also made a lot of money during World War II, because he had connections with the people he referred to as the schmoes in New York City, to get things that weren’t really supposed to be available during World War II. There was a lot of things that were all designated to Department of Defense, or something like that. Like automobiles. You could hardly buy a car during World War II, because everything was going to…
Interviewer: Industry had been moved over to defense.
Pat: Correct. As there are always ways, and his customers came first, he would send a truck up to New York and pick up a load of trash cans from the schmoes. We were kind of on the edge there, a little bit, but we were able to keep our customers happy. Which was the big thing.
Interviewer: It was the height of service.
Pat: Now, service went the way of the wild goose. If you can’t find it in the store, or find some knucklehead to help point you in the right direction…
Interviewer: You don’t find it.
Pat: That’s about the size of it. We sold electric wire by the foot. We sold pipe by the foot. We would cut it and get it however the customer wanted it.
Interviewer: If I only wanted six inches, I only paid for six inches? Not a three‑foot piece?
Pat: Correct. This place, the store up on 14th Street, was one of the most amazing playgrounds that I ever had the pleasure of playing in.
We also had the franchise for Johnson Outboard Motors. The Outboard Motor shop was on top of the fourth floor. There was a [inaudible 24:56] that hung off the back of the building in the alley behind. It was back when DC had alleys between the streets. They would literally winch the outboard motor, or the entire boat, all the way up four floors, to park it on the roof for the Marine mechanics to work on it.
Interviewer: To service.
Pat: Yeah. That was also one of the franchise things. If you wanted a Johnson Outboard Motor…
Interviewer: You went to Meenehan’s.
Interviewer: It’s not just a hardware store in the terms of how we think of a hardware store today. Much more than nuts and bolts and that kind of thing.
Pat: Not at all. The demise of Meenehan’s Hardware had to do with the fact that over time, things change. Do you remember Heckinger?
Interviewer: Yes. Which opened on Wisconsin Ave.
Pat: Right. Heckinger had a small lumber yard in False Church, Virginia. After Heckinger’s first fire, he build the first home center, which was a wild divergence in the lumber business.
Before that, if an ordinary citizen went to a lumber yard, they would just look at you and want to know who sent you, what builder were you picking up supplies for, and things like that. He basically started that trend to get away from the service hardware stores and go to the big box stores.
Interviewer: Sort of the do it yourself concept.
Interviewer: He had more than just lumber, too.
Pat: Yes. As luck would have it, Heckinger and Builder’s Square destroyed each other. From the ashes of those two companies came Lowe’s and Home Depot.
Interviewer: Home Depot.
Pat: They’re the kingpins these days. The small hardware stores…My brother and I ran, and stayed in the store at False Church, his whole careers in the hardware business. Lost my train of thought there.
Interviewer: We had been talking about the big box stores.
Pat: Got it. My brother and my sister, who ran the office at the time, very much wanted to consolidate the five stores into one. To become affiliated with a buying syndicate, like TrueValue, or Ace Hardware, or something like that, so that we could get advertisement. So that we could get preferential pricing on our things.
Dad, God love him, did not want to cut off any of the suppliers, the local suppliers, that he used, and absolutely refused to do that. Which was literally the kiss of death for Meenehan’s Hardware. The stores had to be closed one at a time.
The specific circumstances, with the loss of the Georgetown store, had to do with the fact that dad had sold the store to a real estate guy. Because we were running out of money. Instead of owning the store, he found himself having to pay rent. I think the guy’s name was Sweeney. He became like a persona non grata around the Meenehan’s chain. He wanted to quadruple the rent on the store in Georgetown.
We collectively tried anything and everything just to try to stay there. He didn’t have a tenant for the space. We said, “Let us please stay at this increased amount until you find someone who wants to buy it.” Mr. Sweeney absolutely refused. The store sat empty for a very long time.
Interviewer: What year did the store actually close? Do you remember? I moved to N Street in 1968. I remember, I shopped at Meenehan’s.
Pat: It was close to 1980 I think.
Interviewer: Close to 1980. Somewhere in the late ’70s. Around in there?
Interviewer: All right.
Pat: I had a rather picturesque group of people in there.
Interviewer: Tell me about those picturesque people.
Pat: Well, there was Clarence, and there was…
Interviewer: Whose best friend was Ben Bradlee?
Pat: Yep. Clarence’s driver was a guy named Will…maybe it’ll come back.
Interviewer: OK, we’ll call him Will.
Pat: Will was in the Red Ball Express during World War II. It was Patton’s supply corps, and so the both of them were World War II vets and got along just fine as far as their…They would salute each other. When one was ready to leave to do his deliveries, they would salute and go on from there. Let’s see, who else was…
Interviewer: Meenehan’s was known for interacting with the Georgetown community, that there was support from the community for it and that they provided wonderful service. Any individual stories that you can think of or recall or people that you interacted with in terms that they were regular customers that would come in and…?
Pat: If you want some stories…
Interviewer: I would love some stories, if you’re willing to share them.
Pat: Yep. We had some rather interesting customers. Henry Kissinger’s wife loved the store, and this was at the time when he was…
Interviewer: Secretary of State?
Pat: Yes. Yeah, he was Secretary of the State, and so his wife always had a couple of Secret Service guys with her, and I asked her if she’d like to open an account, and she said, “You don’t want to do that.” She said, “It would take months for your money to get through the Department of State to you.”
She said, “Would it be OK if I simply pay by check, but I don’t want to fool with getting carded and getting my information and all of that other stuff?” Fine. I had a brand new cashier that day who had had the introduction to being a cashier and that if she were to be presented with a check, she had to get identification and write this stuff on the back of the thing.
Nancy and the Secret Service guys were up at the cash register, and the lady said, “I need to see some id,” and Nancy said, “No, you don’t need that.” She says, “Yes, I do.” She says, “No, no, you don’t.” My cashier reached over and grabbed her purse…
Interviewer: No kidding! [laughs]
Pat: …and the Secret Service guys both went for their guns, and I was doing high hurdles over the [inaudible 36:08] to get up there to defuse this thing. It all sorted out without bloodshed.
Interviewer: No one was injured.
Pat: The funny part, because there is always a funny part, was after she left in her limo with the Secret Service guys, the cashier turns to me, and she says, “Isn’t that sad?” I said, “What is sad?” She said, “Those two handsome, big, beautiful guys both have to work here in [inaudible 36:55] .”
Interviewer: Amazing, yeah.
Pat: I couldn’t say much of anything because I found myself speechless in one of the few times that happened. Let’s see, besides Ben Bradlee, we had, oh, Wilbur Mills and…
Interviewer: You said Herman Woke?
Pat: Yeah, Herman Woke. He lived three blocks up, and he was a good customer. The tomato people, Heinz…
Interviewer: Yes, the Heinz…
Pat: …the Heinz’. Yeah, they were in there a lot, and, interestingly enough, there were a number of I guess you’d call them these days celebrities who loved old hardware stores, and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary…
Interviewer: Paul and Mary.
Pat: …and Gene, the guy that was in “The French Connection.”
Pat: Gene Hackman would come in there, and the little guy that was in the movie about Ratso Rizzo from the Bronx, “I’m walkin’ here.”
Interviewer: That one’s not coming to me.
Pat: It’ll come back.
Interviewer: That’s all right.
Pat: It was quite interesting to have all these people. Dad would disappear every Sunday afternoon, and I found out that one of the things that he would do probably once a month was to clean and oil the floors. They were bare wood floors.
Interviewer: I remember them. They had the most wonderful fragrance.
Pat: Oh, yeah! Yeah, and Dad had his own concoction for how to do this. It was a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine and I’m not sure what, and he would mop the floors in there, and…
Interviewer: You weren’t open on Sundays.
Interviewer: You were not open on Sundays.
Pat: Mm‑mm. Oh, no. Good Lord…
Interviewer: What were your hours?
Pat: Our hours were roughly 7:00 AM to, in Georgetown we closed up at about 5 because there just was no way to get around after that. The other stores were open from, let’s say, seven o’clock in the morning till maybe seven or eight at night, depending on the foot traffic that they got in the stores.
The Reston store, because it was a brand new town, and I was running that store at the time. We got requests from the citizens because Reston was laid out so that you could get places faster on foot or bicycle than you could in a car.
Interviewer: Planned community, really, it was, wasn’t it?
Interviewer: Like Columbia and Reston, those were two of the first, I believe.
Pat: They said, “We’d like to have a garden shop.” We said, “OK.” So we put up a garden shop. Then they said, “Well, now that we have all these bicycles out here, there’s no bike shop.” We opened up a bike shop.
At each of those intervals I had to learn very quickly because it was my responsibility to show my salespeople how to do things, which included fixing bicycles and how to recommend different fungicides, herbicides, grass seed, on and on and on like that.
Most of the people that worked for me in Reston were a bunch of happy hippies, and that was just an absolute hoot.
Interviewer: [laughs] Oh, it was.
Pat: I had this one girl named Janice that worked for me, and she was late maybe four or five minutes every day. Every morning, she’d come through the door and say, “Hi, boss.” I’d say, “Janice, you’re late.” She’d say, “Aw, man,” and that’s how we started our day.
Pat: One day, she comes to me, and she said, “Can I take off early?” I said, “Why should I let you take off early?” She said, “Because I got here late?” I said, “Sure, that works.”
We did the same thing in Reston that we did most everywhere else. Where there was a need, we did our best to provide that.
Interviewer: Were there any special needs in the Georgetown store that you provided or adapted your service to meet?
Pat: There wasn’t much of anything that we wouldn’t do to try to help someone out, even if it meant telling them to go somewhere else to get this and then come back to us, and we would do whatever was necessary to get it ready to be used or installed. At that time, we had Toro lawn mowers, and it wasn’t a franchise or anything like that, but we did those kinds of things. We recharged fire extinguishers. We had a lot of amazing…
Interviewer: Did you sharpen knives?
Pat: Oh, sure.
Interviewer: You did all of those kind of personal things for people.
Pat: Yeah, basically, yeah.
Interviewer: Garden equipment, that kind of thing.
Pat: If we could do it.
Interviewer: Did you repair screens?
Interviewer: You did just about all of those little tasks.
Pat: Yep. We thought that was part of the service part of the hardware store, and it always boiled down to this is the right thing to do. One of my customers was the guy that wrote…Peter Blatty.
Interviewer: Yes, “Jaws.”
Pat: OK. No, no.
Interviewer: What did he write?
Pat: Blatty wrote “The Exorcist.”
Interviewer: Oh, OK.
Interviewer: His house was across the street on the river side from Georgetown U. It was kind of a big, glass thing that went straight up in the air, and…
Interviewer: Is that Prospect Street?
Pat: Yeah. He came down one day and said…how I met them was during the filming of The Exorcist. The production crew was standing at the door every morning…
Interviewer: Oh, really?
Pat: …to get whatever they needed to do for that day’s filming, and we had Sapolin paint at that time, and the artistic guys were in there trying to find the right color of red, blood red, because they were going to be doing the scene where Father Damien went down the big flight of stairs and landed on his head. They ended up using Sapolin brick red for that.
The day that they did the scene where the bed was levitating and moving around and all of this, they bought every piece of wire and fishing line and really thin, like, mason’s line and stuff like that, everything you could imagine to levitate all of the furniture in the room that was moving all around.
But, getting back to Blatty, he said, “You know, I’ve got this house,” and I said, “OK.” He said, “There are no fire escape,” and I said, “Uh‑huh, that’s not good.” He said, “Can you come up to the house and check this out and tell me what we need to do to be able to get out of there if there’s a fire?” I said, “Absolutely.”
I went out there, and I walked out into the little backyard and this patio, and he’s sitting out there writing the sequel, listening to “Tubular Bells,” which was rather frightening, because The Exorcist scared the living daylights out of me…
Pat: …having been raised Catholic.
Interviewer: Out of all of us.
Pat: Yeah. So I said, “How do you get on the roof?” He said, “Well, you see that spiral staircase?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Just go right up the spiral staircase all the way up, and then there’s a trapdoor at the top,” and I said, “Yeah, I saw the movie.” He said, “No, it’s not that. That gets you out in the open air.” He was a hoot. His wife was even more fun, but there were…
I think it was a relief for a lot of those rather important people to be treated just like anybody else. Do you remember George Meany?
Interviewer: I do.
Pat: He was one of our customers. He had a chauffeured limousine. George got his knees busted in a labor dispute in Chicago, I think, and so he had his aluminum crutches, and…
Interviewer: The ones that fit on the arms?
Pat: Right. He would come into the shop, and it would take his chauffeur I don’t know how long to find a place to park the car because it was a stretch limo. We were [laughs] back in the [inaudible 50:11] department one day, and he says, “Son, do you know what the problem is with this country?” I said, “No, sir, what?” He said, “Nobody wants to woyk.” I treasured that up in my heart.
Pat: Nobody wants to work…
Interviewer: Wants to work.
Pat: …and then by the time the limo driver got into the store, George was checking out. The guy was trying to take his bag from him, and he was whacking him with the crutches. “I got it! I got it! I got it!” But I never forgot the, “Nobody wants to woyk.”
Interviewer: Nobody wants to work.
Pat: To woyk. Remember Gene McCarthy?
Interviewer: Yes, I do.
Pat: He was one of our customers, and this is a funny story.
Pat: Most of them are funny, but this is really funny. He came in, and I looked up, and I said, “Hey, I voted for you,” and he says, “Good.” He said, “Where’s the chicken wire?” I says, “It’s down in the basement on the other side.”
He said, “Well, I could see you’re busy.” He said, “I’ll go on down there, and you come down soon as you can.” I said, “Fine.” 45 minutes later, I remembered I left him in the basement.
Interviewer: With the chicken wire.
Pat: I came down the stairs, hopped over the foundation from one store to the other, and I said, “Senator, I am so sorry.” He said, “Pat,” he said, “this is the most peace and quiet that I have had in a very long time,” and he was just sitting there listening to the footsteps on the wooden floors above him.
Interviewer: A little time alone in the basement.
Interviewer: Yeah, busy people’s lives. You get that impression when a lot of people talk about Meenehan’s. They thoroughly enjoyed doing business there, and what is it about hardware stores? People love them.
Pat: When I was called in to Georgetown from Reston, the manager at that time was a guy named Ralph Hayes, and Ralph called me over one day, and he said, “There’s something I want you to see.” I said, “OK.”
He was giving a customer back his money for something that he decided he didn’t want. He filled out the little petty cash slip and had the guys sign it, and gave him back his money. After they guy walked out the door, Ralph said, “So did you see it?” I said, “What am I supposed to see?” He said, “When I handed him back the money on the return, I did so smiling.” I said, “Uh‑huh, and that is so that, that’s not the last time we ever see him?” He said, “You got it.” That’s the way it is.
Woman. Customer’s always right.
Pat: Yes, they are, they used to be anyway. Do you know who Mrs. Auchincloss is?
Interviewer: Jackie Kennedy’s mother.
Pat: Yeah. She was in there one day trying to get us to show her how to set a mouse trap.
Pat: She just couldn’t get it. This crusty old guy that worked for dad, named Jack Hayes, looked over her shoulder and looked at her and he says, “I wonder what college you went to.” Turned around and walked off. Oh gosh. It was a rather unique place to be. There were a lot of street people out there in Georgetown. Our favorite guy was, nicknamed himself as Sky King.
He would sit on the stoop across the street from us, next to Clyde’s, which was a Department of Defense film…
Interviewer: It was?
Pat: …facility. Yeah, I don’t know if it was CIA or not. But this was back when, right after Sputnik had gone up and we were in the space race with the Russians. He would sit on the stoop across the street, picking bugs off of himself and squashing them on the steps.
We had the main door, and then over here was another door that was blocked off. That’s where we kept stuff like pine bark mulch, and things like that. Sky King would sleep in the mulch.
Interviewer: At night.
Pat: He would cover himself up with the bags of pine bark mulch to keep warm.
Interviewer: They probably produced some heat didn’t they?
Pat: I think so. Those guys, there’s some admiration there for how they lived. I don’t think I could live that way or nor…
Interviewer: How they managed to survive…
Pat: …would I want to. But every now and then one of the bums would steal something from out front. Every day we would put out lawn mowers and other kinds of rolling things, and then we would bring them in at night. But every now and then we would get a call from the junk company down the street saying that, “There’s some bozo here trying to sale us one of your wheelbarrows, could you please come retrieve the thing.”
There was this really interesting little community that was a part of the Georgetown thing. There were the tourists and then there were the people that just came to Georgetown for the ambiance or to get good food or whatever it is. The people who literally lived there were, they were fairly tight. In terms of no pretentiousness, always happy to talk to you, anything like that.
Interviewer: Friendly, supportive community.
Pat: It was one of the few places that some very important people could come without being treated like the Pope or something like that.
Interviewer: Yeah, important people were common place.
Interviewer: Did the Kennedy’s shop at Meenehan’s?
Pat: Yes, yes they did. They were just the same as everybody else, as far as nobody would fall down and bow or anything like that, because they were the same kind of people that we were. At one point I had seven gays working for me in the hardware store, and they were an absolute hoot.
Richard Beamon, who was my store manager for a time, made all his own clothes…
Interviewer: Did he really?
Pat: …up to and including, three‑piece suits. This kid had more talent. He was an heir to the Moller organ money, and Richard, oh gosh, he was more fun than you could shake a stick at. But he had a boyfriend named Robbie. He and Robbie at that time were living with that high‑powered attorney that lives up in Georgetown, that was the lead attorney for OJ Simpson.
Pat: I can’t remember his name.
Interviewer: Nor can I. We can Google it. I can add it into…
Pat: He had a vile disposition.
Interviewer: Did he?
Pat: Yeah, but what can you do? Richard’s boyfriend worked as a gardener on the Belin estate, and I found out from them where Belin got his creds. Did you ever see a picture of Hindenburg disaster…
Pat: …where the Yale student jumped out of the thing?
Interviewer: No, I don’t know the student. Tell me that story.
Pat: That was Peter Belin.
Interviewer: Oh golly.
Pat: Yeah. He got broke up, but he didn’t get dead.
Interviewer: Out of the Hindenburg? In New Jersey?
Interviewer: I did not know that.
Pat: Yeah, they were coming back from Europe, or Germany or somewhere, I’m not sure. Yeah, he had that whole block in there. Had this cute little kid, from Tennessee, named Paul Cochran. Paul, he said, “I ain’t too smart, but I try hard.” I said, “OK, fine.”
His spelling was atrocious, but I’m good at correcting things. Paul marries a black transvestite, and Philip would come to have lunch with Paul one day, and Phyllis would come to have lunch with him the next. Phyllis looked like Diana Ross.
Interviewer: Did she really? [laughs]
Pat: It was unnerving to know that Philip was underneath the Diana Ross thing. Some of the gays that worked for me, you’d never know. You’d never know. Some, like Richard, would get whistled at out on the street, because he had a walk that most women would die at.
It just went around and around, and one day I was helping this little guy that drove a moped everywhere, and I was always suspicious of people who rode on mopeds. Just a personal thing, I suppose.
After I had waited on this guy, and out the door he went, Richard came over and he says, “Patrick, that is totally disgusting.” I said, “What?” He said, “That guy you just waited on.” I said, “What about him?” He said, “He was practically drooling.” I said, “Over what?” He said, “Well, over you.” I said, “What would he see in me?” Richard said, “”Patrick, you are so butch.”
Interviewer: You really had a cross section of wonderful characters in your life, being right down there on the [inaudible 64:14] street. It sounds like a grand career.
Pat: It indeed was and we were all…One of the kids that worked for me while he was going to school in Georgetown, was Parker Benjamin Rockefeller.
Interviewer: A Rockefeller.
Pat: A Rockefeller. He was a deadhead.
Interviewer: Really? I guess at that age, appropriate. We’re talking what decade, are we in?
Pat: ’70s. Parker went to all the Grateful Dead concerts no matter where in the world they were. One day Parker said, “Do you like to hunt?” I said, “Yeah, sort of.” He said, “Do you want to go pheasant hunting?” I said, “Sure.”
I said, “Where are we going?” He said, “My uncle’s island in the Chesapeake.” I said, “Oh. How do you get pheasants on an island in the Chesapeake?” He said, “Oh, we have a gamekeeper.”
Interviewer: Off you went pheasant hunting in the Chesapeake.
Pat: Oh my gosh.
Interviewer: Was it beautiful?
Pat: Oh my gosh. He was an awful lot of fun.
Interviewer: I’ll bet he was.
Pat: The whole thing was that I led by example in any and everything. My brother, on the other hand, didn’t. He would tell people what to do. He wouldn’t show them. He would tell them what to do and if they didn’t do it right, then they got yelled at.
I don’t think there’s anybody that he had working for him that has any regard for him. He came to a bad end a few years ago. His truck rolled on him. That was the end of Bo. As far as my side of the family, I’m it for this branch of the Meenehan family.
I’m going to try to make it to the next family reunion. They had one somewhere up near the bay.
Interviewer: How many left in this family? I guess it continues to grow because there were many branches.
Pat: There was my uncle Frank, who was the nominal manager of the Georgetown store but he wasn’t there very much. He was a social, I don’t know if butterfly is the right word or not. He was nominally the manager for the Georgetown store.
Then my uncle Vincent left the business and opened up his own hardware store. It was called Brooklyn. My uncle Marius was already dead by then. He died of esophageal varices. Probably from excessive alcohol consumption. I think it’s one of the primary causes for that.
Dad and my uncle Marius were just like this. They were…
Interviewer: Very close.
Pat: Very close. They went everywhere, did everything. It was funny because dad was the oldest and Marius was the youngest but they were pretty tight. Let’s see. The demise of the store on 14th street, was simply a matter of economics more than anything else.
Then, while I was in college was when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and I was hitchhiking home from school one weekend. It’s a five‑hour hitchhike between Blacksburg, Virginia and Arlington.
I was going down Arlington boulevard and a guy said, “Did you hear what’s going on in town?” I said, “No, what?” He said, “DC’s burning.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Martin Luther King was assassinated.” I said, “The response to this is to burn down your town?” He said, “Yeah, apparently.”
The hardware store that was there burned down and I understand now that that whole neighborhood is gentrified.
Interviewer: You must come back and see what’s happened to DC. It is truly amazing and very exciting and interesting.
Pat: I should do that.
Interviewer: It really is a very different place than it was 10 years ago.
Pat: Really? Vraiment?
Interviewer: Come on a sunny day and enjoy and go back into some of those areas or anywhere really from Union Station going downtown. It has completely changed.
Interviewer: It’s neat. It’s filled with young, exciting people. I would say the average age is probably around 38 and they’re paying big rents and having a wonderful time and working hard. That image that schools have been renovated and people are putting their children back into the schools in some of the northwest or southwest territories, areas.
The whole waterfront’s being re‑done down where the stadium was built. It’s just amazing.
Interviewer: Georgetown continues to be Georgetown.
Pat: That’s good.
Interviewer: Yeah. I think it is.
Pat: There was a store right across the street from dad’s store that was a boutique or something like that and the only reason that I remember it being there was they had in the display window out front a gardening apron that was a beautiful thing. It was white and it was coated so that dirt comes off of it or something like that. In green letters, I’m trying to think of what it said. “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
Interviewer: [laughs] That’s quite a comment.
Pat: I even went across the street because they wanted $80.
Interviewer: $80 for this apron. I don’t know what store that would’ve been.
Pat: It was about two doors down from Clyde’s.
Interviewer: Going in town, or out of town?
Pat: Out of town, up toward the bridge.
Interviewer: Up toward the bridge.
Pat: Yeah, it was next to that super‑secret whatever building it was, or used to be.
Interviewer: I’ll find out what the name of it was, and add that in.
Pat: They did satellite imagery or something like that, I’m not sure what it was.
Interviewer: In that defense department, whatever it was, film studio.
Pat: Film something or other. That’s where Sky King was, part of it.
Interviewer: This is a very rich and wonderful interview session. I thank you. Anything else you want to add?
Pat: Can I give you something from Sky King?
Pat: He came in the store one day, and we had painter’s pants, the light blue jeans. Every time he came into the store, I’d say, “What can I do for you? How can I help you, sir?” He’d say, “I want 50 pounds of nails, and I want 100 side of beef, and I want, blah blah blah,” like that.
After he got done with that, I said, “What do you want?” He said, “How much are those painter’s overalls you got up there?” I told him, and he fussed and went around in circles for a while, and we finally agreed on a price. Out the door he goes.
About five minutes later, one of the girls that worked for me comes running to the back where I’m at the glass table or something, and she says, “Sky King is changing his clothes in front of the store. He’s sitting on the fire hydrant, naked.”
Interviewer: Putting on his painter pants.
Pat: During rush hour.
Interviewer: No kidding?
Pat: Oh my gosh, that’s just one of the few things that I’m blessed with, is knowing what not to get worried about because there’s nothing I can do about it. Sky King was one of those things. We had a guy who came in one time, I don’t know if he was a Native American or what the heck he was, but he had hair down to here. He came down the street with a payphone on his shoulder.
Interviewer: No kidding, the booth or just the phone?
Pat: The whole phone, this big.
Interviewer: The phone?
Pat: Yeah, he laid it on the glass table in the back and he says, “You know how to get this thing open?” I said, “Sir, that’s a federal offense. Get that thing out of here.” Off he went, and a couple months later, I’m standing out in front of the store, watching the world go by, and here comes the same dude.
Same hair, no shirt, in the dead of winter, screaming. He came around the corner from Wisconsin Avenue and ran all the way down until I lost sight of him somewhere near Sunny Surplus.
Interviewer: I forgot Sunny Surplus.
Pat: Good grief. There were all kinds down there, and nobody seemed to take any particular notice of the crazies and the normals, and everyone in between. It was just a marvelous place to be. One of my customers was Ms. Cecilia Von Roth, and she called about something, and I said, “Let me let you talk to my store manager.”
At that time, my store manager was a guy named Fuzzy. I said, “Hold on for a minute, and I’ll go get Fuzzy.” She says, “Fuzzy? Mr. Fuzzy?” I said, “Yeah, you can call him Mr. Fuzzy all you want.” She was one of those customers where, when Wilbur went to deliver to her, he had to take his shoes off.
Interviewer: Before he could get in the house?
Pat: Before he could get in the house. It was just one of those wonderful things where everybody just rolled along, singing the song. It was probably the best time in my life, because it was no end of interesting stuff going on, and interesting people.
Interviewer: People treating each other nicely.
Interviewer: It’s a wonderful story. Thank you so much.
Pat: You’re welcome.