HAVERHILL — For decades, locals haven't had far to go to pick up whatever they needed for a home repair job or a lawn project.

Whether it was a paint brush, a washer for a leaky faucet, a light switch or a garden rake, a visit to the Arthur Sharp True Value hardware store at 21 Middlesex St. would likely yield what was needed. 

Those visits will soon come to an end, however, as owner Patrick Lane has sold the store and accompanying land on the Bradford side of the Merrimack River to developer Alain Sfeir of Middlesex Haverhill Realty Trust.

Lane said Sfeir may be looking to build waterfront apartments in the mostly commercial neighborhood. If that happens, it will be the latest in a series of housing projects along the river, including a sprawling complex at the former Ornsteen Heel factory site next to the Bradford commuter train station.

According to the mayor's office, no proposals for development of the Arthur Sharp True Value property have yet been submitted to the city. Sfeir did not respond to requests for comment.

City Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he's heard Sfeir may be planning a 16-unit apartment building for the site. If he did, it would have to be a multi-story building — the first of what could be many high rises along the river, Sullivan said.

"It really would be a transformational change and would complement what's going on across the river, where we have Harbor Place and Haverhill Heights," Sullivan said. "The future of the river will be a number of these large residential apartment buildings and luxury condominiums ... With the abutting parcel (the Roma Restaurant next to the hardware store), it could be the beginning of transformational change along Bradford side of the river, although I have not heard of any plans to redevelop the Roma site."

Lane said he's been trying to sell the hardware store for the last several years so he can retire but there were no takers, so he opened it up to developers.

He said he sold the 11,000-square-foot property last week to Sfeir for $337,500. Steven Desisto of the Coldwell Banker real estate company said he handled the sale.

Several proposals for waterfront developments have emerged during the past few years in response to changes in waterfront zoning in Haverhill. Those changes were designed to make it easier for developers to build housing and mixed-use riverfront projects.

One developer plans to build nine market-rate condominiums at the former Skelley Motors property on Water Street. The site overlooks the river from the Haverhill side. Vacant for decades, the property at 229 Water St. sits between the entrance to the Buttonwoods Riverside Trail and Mike's Sunoco gas station.

Two large housing projects have also been proposed for the Bradford side of the river: the Riverview Condominiums project at 38 Railroad St., which was originally planned for 54 units spread over three, five story buildings but has since been downsized to 48 units; and a 290-unit apartment complex at the site of the former Ornsteen Heel company property.

Sal Lupoli's Heights at Haverhill, a new 10-story building on downtown Merrimack Street, also came under the city's waterfront overlay zoning, as did the boardwalk next to the Harbor Place complex.

Sullivan, a longtime customer of the Arthur Sharp hardware store, said he shopped there just last week for window candle bulbs.

"I have mixed emotions only because I grew up with the Lane family and I'm going to miss them, but I understand the need to make a change," Sullivan said. 

From now until Lane closes his store just before Christmas, he's having a 50% off sale. It's a chance to score a bargain and say goodbye.

Lane, 66, has owned the popular hardware and lawn and garden supplies store since 1982, when he bought it from Arthur Sharp. Lane began working there in 1971 while he was a sophomore at Haverhill High School. He grew up in South Lawrence and his family moved to Bradford when he was 11.

"After graduating in 1973, I began working full time for Arthur Sharp," he said. "The true name of the business is Arthur Sharp Farm Supply Inc., but we changed to True Value around 1990."

Lane said the business was originally known as Ellison Coal and Grain, and that Arthur Sharp began working there in 1944.

"Back then there were a lot of farms around," Lane said. "They had barges come down the river and unload coal and grain behind the building."

Lane said that in 1955, Sharp was the store manager, and on the Fourth of July the building was heavily damaged by fire.

"Ellison decided not to rebuild here so Arthur, who lived in Bradford with his wife and two kids, got a loan and bought the property," Lane said. "He rebuilt it and opened it as Arthur Sharp Farm Supply Inc."

As area farms began to close, Sharp turned the business into more of a hardware store with some grains, Lane said.

"We've been able to sustain the business, but big box stores took away a lot of business, plus the sales tax hurts, too," Lane said. "For large ticket items, people go to New Hampshire, leaving us to sell smaller items."

Lane said his two sons, one who lives in Australia and one who lives in Florida, have their own professions and were not interested in taking over his store.

"My wife, Linda, and I actually live in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, where we bought a summer camp 37 years ago which is now a four-seasons home," Lane said. "I'm looking forward to spending more time in the outdoors.

 "I want to thank all my customers for their support over the years and I wish them all good luck and good health and I also want to thank the hundreds of high school and college kids who have worked here over the years," Lane said. "I tried to teach every one of them to stay in school, work hard and to be good people."

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