End of an Era

C&E Paint Supply

C&E Paint Supply opened in Cold Spring nearly 70 years ago. (File photo)

C&E Paint Supply scheduled to close by end of year

The end of the year will mark the end of an era as the iconic Cold Spring business, C&E Paint Supply, will close after nearly 70 years on Main Street.

Owner Susan Early said on Wednesday (Nov. 10) that she plans to retire.

The shop was opened in 1952 by Early’s parents, Jim and Sadie Early, who partnered with her aunt and uncle, Bonnie and Jake Cretelli (accounting for the C&E). It opened at 159 Main St. (now Cold Spring Florist) and moved to 158 Main St. in 1955. The families purchased the building in 1983, which has been a key to its survival, Early said.

The paint-and-hardware retailer is renowned for its personal service, including a low-tech approach at the cash register. There is no “self-checkout” lane, just a carbon-copy paper receipt handwritten by Early. If you forgot your wallet, chances are you’d be able to bring in payment the next day. 

In a profile of the store published in The Current in 2015, Early said “people come in looking for that hardware-store smell.”

Early’s father and uncle were house painters, and they opened the store in part so they could get their supplies. In the early days, Jim and Jake would mix their paints on location, by hand, combining lead and linseed oil and squeezing tubes into that mixture. It all had to be matched “by eye.” 

That changed with the arrival of the manual mixer decades ago, Susan Early said. It was replaced by a computerized version about 12 or 13 years ago, while “the old shaker, a Red Devil 1952, made it to 60 years,” Early said.

Hardware hasn’t changed as drastically (“There’s not that much new in hardware,” Early said in 2015), although the stock changed based on the philosophy of Early’s cousin Ed Cretelli, who explained in 2015 that “If two people ask for it, I’ll get it in.”

Cretelli (who died in 2017) and his wife Rose ran the store with Susan for many years, joining when he retired from IBM. Although sidelines in picture-framing and screen repair ended with the passing of the founders, much of that era still remains, starting with the scale — regularly inspected — that hangs at the back of the store, where the contents of bins and drawers (nails, screws, etc.) are sold by the pound.

Drawer after drawer is labeled in a kind of construction poetry: toggle bolts, hex lag screws, wedge anchors, flare nuts. Early said in 2015 they didn’t sell as many clothesline pulleys and line tighteners as they used to, but staples are staples, and much of what sold in 1952 still sells now, from twine to cable ties, nozzles, multiple varieties of pliers, lamp harps, rust dissolvers, wire, wire and more wire, glues and locks and ratcheting cutters, measuring tapes, steel wool. They’re all here.

Early was basically born into the business, but she was “half-and-half about it in the beginning; I didn’t really want to work here,” she said in 2015. But “once I started, I stayed with it.”

“Service is what we have to offer, although you’d be surprised at how a lot of our prices compare to the big-box stores,” she said. “And here you can get in and out quickly, instead of searching for someone to help you. This is especially true for contractors.” 

C&E also has many patrons who are new homeowners, she said. “Newcomers make a point of trying to shop local; they’re determined to. It’s part of the reason they moved to a small town; they make a point of telling me.”

New homeowners are often eager to alter the colors on their walls, as are those who simply want to make a change or fix up peeling surfaces. They all find their way to C&E — artists who “get very specific about what they want” and others who “can be very vague. It gets complicated because people typically come in with chips, sometimes from elsewhere, which is fine. 

“I tell them I can give them that color, but once it’s on the wall, it will not match the chip exactly. But if they have the patience to try it out at home, on the wall, and then come back, we can remix it. I expect the difference to happen — that’s the nature of color, and they don’t need to apologize; I actually like fooling around with color.”

Alison Rooney contributed reporting.

7 thoughts on “End of an Era

  1. Susan Early – I will miss you and your store but have been so lucky with C&E for so long. You have solved so many last minute “i needs” and I appreciate/d them all. Thank you! (Insert tears).

  2. I am very sorry to hear that my favorite hardware store is closing, but sadly, with the way retail is going this days, it did seem inevitable. I wish there were people out there as devoted and talented as the owner who would be interested in carrying on the business, but I suppose that’s not in the cards.

    I hope Ms. Early has a wonderful retirement and I wish her the best in whatever else she does. It was always a pleasure to go to her shop, especially for the little things like having keys made or buying a special can of paint. No place like it – she will be missed.

  3. My father worked for C&E. As a kid I would go with my dad to the dump when it was time to clean out the paint work van. We would toss out dozens of empty paint cans. My brother and some of his friends would work for C&E during summer. Many stories came out of a day’s work.

    If only the walls in the paint store could talk, what a tale it would tell. Thanks for all the years of service Sue, Rose and others who worked at C&E.

  4. Dear Susan, so sad to hear you’re leaving. We will all miss you greatly. And I can finally say it now, ‘Your key copies are always perfect.’

  5. I grew up with C&E Paint. We had a painting of the place in our house. Susan Early helps you find the right tool, product or paint for your job and advise you on how to use them. Then when the business is out of the way she asks about your family by name and swaps stories if there’s time. My earliest memory of C&E may be holiday time when I was pre-school age. My mother brought me to the shop to pick up outdated wallpaper books from Susan. We took them home, cut the orange and green geometric patterned and metallic papers into strips, and made chains for the Christmas tree. I was a seriously devoted Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood fan and this experience made me feel like I was in a real version of the show, a version with Mr. McFeely, Lady Elaine and Susan. Imagine you just keep walking past the edge of the screen and there’s Main Street and C&E Paint, go a little further and you’ll see Cold Spring Pizza. My dad had a design studio on Main Street and we’d walk up for supplies like spray paint or washers. I don’t know if witnessing paint being mixed and marveling at strips of colors is every kid’s idea of entertainment, but it was sure mine. The chains still grace my mother’s Christmas tree each year, refreshing the memory.

    I worked with Marie Early on the Chapel Restoration Board for years, using the paint store as a drop off and pick up location for documents and donations. I said hello to Rose and Ed Cretelli eating at the Riverview bar as I waked through to my table. These people and places draw threads between us that we barely see. I have chosen colors and bought paint at C & E practically my whole life. I have borrowed color wheels and kept them too long every time. At the moment, I can’t think of anything more ripe with possibilities than choosing a new color. Susan has been there to talk color with me for every minor change and major renovation. If I put it on the wall and it wasn’t as dreamy as I’d hoped, she would use her mysterious paint alchemy to adjust the color until it was right. I will miss C & E Paint.

  6. I grew up a few houses away from the Early family (James, Sadie, Marie, Janet and Susan. Bonnie and Jake Critelli lived on Church Street not too far from my home. Jim Early and Jake Critelli started the business from the ground up. Susan has done a wonderful job keeping the business going all of these years, but it is time for her to what is best for her. Thank you Susan! There are many wonderful people who made this village what it is today and unfortunately most have passed on or moved away. Those memories will live on in the hearts of many of us.