Mission Hill hardware store reopens months after shooting

Mission Hill hardware store reopens months after shooting
The family-owned AC Hardware store is located on Tremont Street close to many college campuses making it popular among students./ Photo by Brian Bae

By Julia Crooijmans, news staff

A Mission Hill hardware store reopened six months after the loss of its beloved owner Andres “Cholo” Cruz.

Cruz was fatally shot by three men attempting to rob his store, AC Hardware on Tremont Street, on July 18, 2017, a Tuesday afternoon. All three were charged with first-degree murder.

Noelia Cruz, Andres Cruz’s 35-year-old daughter, said she never expected to take over her father’s store. However, given the circumstances, she is eager to learn and follow in his footsteps.

“I hope that his legacy is going to be carried on,” she said. “I got big shoes to fill and I hope to live up to everybody’s expectation.”

Andres Cruz was an iconic figure in the neighborhood; everyone knew him as a welcoming man who helped everyone in his store.

“If [customers] were short a few cents, he would let them go,” Noelia Cruz said. “If he could have done anything to help them, he would.”

Last year AC Hardware received the “2017 Mission Hill Main Streets Business of the Year” award. It is the only hardware store in the neighborhood.

“I have known him 25 years,” said Michael Spinney, owner of Spinney Insurance and a close friend of Cruz, “And he was the best [expletive] neighbor anyone could have — I miss him every day.”

After months of mourning, Noelia Cruz decided it was time to reopen in January.

“[We waited until] after the holidays because his birthday was right after Thanksgiving … I thought it would be right to do it after the holidays, because it hit us hard,” Noelia Cruz said. “We needed to grieve and we didn’t want people coming in here thinking that it was a freak show.”

In front of AC Hardware hangs a bright yellow banner reading, “Now Open.” Several photographs of Cholo are still hanging outside the store.

“It is slowly picking up,” Noelia Cruz said. “Same old customers are returning — it is about time, they needed [us].”

Adam Thai and Jason Park, both residents of Mission Hill and sophomore students at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science, said the store has not changed since before the shooting.

“It still has the same homey feel,” said Thai, who is pursuing a doctorate degree in pharmacy. “I like that it is POC [people of color] and family owned and run — I would rather go here than any other hardware store.”

Thai and Park said gentrification caused by college students threatens small businesses in Mission Hill.

“I feel like so many college students are gentrifying Mission Hill, which is making it harder for those who have lived here before us,” Thai said. “It is such a complicated relationship to have with a community, so I think it is important to try and find ways to give back and be good residents of this area.”

While gentrification has made housing prices less affordable for the residents of Mission Hill, some business owners, like Spinney, argue that the benefits can outweigh the drawbacks.

“The neighborhood needs some young talent in it — it spices things up,” Spinney said. “Also, students did great for the hardware store — buying mops, brooms, cleaners. Cholo loved September 1,” he said, referring to the day many apartment leases begin and college students move in.

Since the shooting, security on Mission Hill, and specifically near the hardware store, has increased. Real-time recording security cameras were installed in AC Hardware and police promised Spinney they would increase patrol in the area and install a camera overlooking the street.

“Sometimes it is a day late and a dollar short, though,” Spinney said.

While the neighborhood has become more secure, Noelia Cruz said that the streets are not getting any safer.

Regardless, it seems that college students are still visiting AC Hardware.

“A bunch of college students have been coming in — all types,” Noelia Cruz said. “It is comforting that they are not worried about coming in here.”

She said she sees a bright future ahead and hopes the business will flourish.

“We are happy to see everyone come in. And even if you buy a screw or a nail for 20 cents, it doesn’t matter. We are here for you guys,” she said. “Hopefully everyone is happy with the way we are running it.”