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On Bathurst Street near the Annex, the din of the city is never far away, even in the lull of midafternoon.

Busy with businesses and home to many, it sounds like a thoroughfare should, alive with the streetcar's rumble and the hiss and thump of wet tires on cracked pavement.

It's a different world, though, beyond the creaking door of Spector Hardware, at the misleadingly prestigious-sounding address of 1000 Bathurst St., where a handwritten sign says "Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m."

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To walk through that door is to wonder how long it's been since anyone else did.

You could ask the owner, Marvin Spector, but he isn't sure himself.

"I used to sell all kinds of things," says Mr. Spector, who'll turn 71 soon, "but these days, it's different."

Make no mistake, he still has "all kinds of things" -- from old nails and doorknobs to light fixtures and laundry baskets -- he just doesn't sell many of them any more, and it's not difficult to see why.

From its dusty front window to the hopelessly cluttered back room, the shop presents a mess to rival the most obdurate teenager's bedroom, with bits of glass and metal and cardboard substituting for dirty clothes.

A broken shelf tilts sharply down at one end, threatening to spill its load of nails. Rolls of old linoleum sit rotting on racks. A mildewed suitcase hangs overhead, thinking about falling.

Mr. Spector, whose eyesight is just fine, thank you very much, needs no reminding of the mess.

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"It needs cleaning properly, and there's nobody to do that," he says, "so what can I say?"

But then, what's the point anyway? All the young homeowners and landlords in the neighbourhood flock to the big-box stores for their hardware, leaving Mr. Spector, with only his radio for company, waiting for whatever scraps of remaining business walk through the door.

Sometimes, people come looking for things they can't find anywhere else, like the guy who wanted paste wax and was so excited that he kept coming back until he bought it all. Others are "old buggers" who insist on fixing a leaky faucet instead of replacing it, which everyone seems so quick to do these days.

"If they can't find it at a high-falutin' place, they come here, and hopefully I can help them," Mr. Spector says, sitting half-hidden behind his crowded counter.

But too often, they're just "stinkers" who want something for nothing.

"It's more trouble than anything else," Mr. Spector says, finally getting to the heart of why he still bothers at all: "It's just something to do."

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It wasn't always this way, of course. His father, Morris, did a decent business when he bought the place in 1948 and ran it as a sideline to his carpentry job and occasional real-estate dealings.

Mr. Spector, the only one of four siblings to take an interest, worked in the shop off and on until his dad remarried in 1965. "I couldn't get along with my stepmother, so they kicked me out and I worked for somebody else."

When his father died in 1970, the hardware store fell to him, so he returned. It's been pretty much downhill since then, but the slope has been gradual enough to allow Mr. Spector to have a family life away from the shop and to sock away enough money to live on today.

The lack of customers gives him time to tell you about his life, sometimes in more detail than you might want to hear.

He'll tell you, for example, how his first wife ran off to San Francisco with another man in the mid-1960s, after just six months of marriage. "I got the goods on her," he says, adding that you had to prove adultery to get a divorce in those days.

His second marriage lasted 28 years and produced two children. "She didn't want to run away, but she died on me," Mr. Spector says, attributing his wife's cancer to a weakness for fast food.

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Since she never revealed her age, he didn't know she was five years older than he was until her death a few years ago.

These days, Mr. Spector is unmarried, but has enjoyed an active relationship with a 67-year-old woman for more than a year now. And when he says active, he means it.

"I figure at 67, it's time to take it easy, but it doesn't work that way," he says, smiling. "She wants it at night and she wants it again in the morning."

Perhaps it's no wonder that Mr. Spector takes shelter here in the hardware store each day, but, girlfriend or not, he'd be here anyway.

"I'm an old poop, and I should be retired," he says. "But I come down here just to keep myself interested. If I just sit at home, I'll probably die."

areinhart@globeandmail.ca

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