When John E. Phillips opened his store in 1928, penny nails were four cents a handful, a pound of putty was about a dime and every face that passed through the door was a familiar one.

In the early years skeptics said that Phillips Hardware Company would have a difficult time making it in a town with such fierce competition.

Almost 60 years later, a pound of nails cost 89 cents and the putty about $1 a pound, and Phillips Hardware is going strong.

The town is much larger now so there are as many strangers as familiar faces in the streets. But go back to the same location on Circuit avenue and you’ll find the Phillips family and its hardware business in the same place.

In February Phillips Hardware celebrates its 60th year in business, making it the oldest family-owned and operated business on the main street of the town.

“When I ride down the street and see the sign and see how the place has grown and think of all that it has meant to me and my family it is still invigorating,” Mr. Phillips said from behind the desk with his granddaughter’s name on it.

Walk through its doors and you’re likely to see the third generation of the Phillips Hardware family at work - manager Susan Phillips rearranging a display or Donna Leon working on the books in the back room while floor manager David R. Madeiras totals a customer’s bill at the front cash register.

“When the boss is away I get to move more things around,” Miss Phillips said jokingly of her father Robert Phillips, the second generation owner of the store, who was on vacation. “More gets done when I don’t have any distractions.”

The old-fashioned hardware store in the center of the town is the antithesis of the mainland’s cut-rate, find-it-yourself, warehouse store.

Here you can actually find a gallon of white paint with relative ease. It’s in the back left corner.

How about a nozzle for a steam radiator? Need a six-inch hasp, a three-inch T-hinge, a Wiss Metalmaster snip or any one of about a hundred different sizes of vacuum bags?

Not only do they know what they sell and where to find it, but they actually have a working knowledge of the products they sell.

“It’s a family business so there is something special about it,” Miss Phillips said as she walked through meticulously arranged aisles. “I think people tend to work harder when they are working for themselves and their family. I can’t see myself putting in as many hours as I do if I worked for someone else.”

The work ethic seems to have been handed down with the store. Mr. Phillips remembers working 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. with his wife Evelyn arriving later in the morning after finishing the housework to begin the bookkeeping.

Mr. Phillips purchased the store when he was 20 years old and a clerk working at Wigwam Hardware.

“One day I was on my lunch break and I was walking to the post office,” Mr. Phillips said. “I walked into this small hardware store called Island Supply and just asked the woman working there if she wanted to sell. She said she would ask her husband that night. And the next day we began to talk.”

Within four years Mr. Phillips bought the building adjacent to the tiny store and as each surrounding lease expired the hardware store grew into its place.

Mr. Phillips said he retired from actively working in the store about 10 years ago, but keeps an interested eye on its progress.

“I’m very proud of the store and my family which has held on the tradition all these years,” Mr. Phillips said. “I believe and I hope that it will always stay within this family.”