"That'll be a buck," Steve Ripper says cheerfully, handing over the vital gizmo with clear instructions and detailed advice. He turns next to the lady who's come in with her dog, trying to figure out whether she can paint the ugly tar caulk on the side of her house. Ripper started working in his dad's hardware store, down in Lemay, right after high school. Soon he was doing promotions and displays, and when his dad retired, in '85, Steve took over. His mom continued doing the books and his brothers Ed and Bill helped sell, and soon his daughter was working her way through college there. Floods drove them from Lemay to St. Louis Hills in 1994, and Steve was delighted to start doing more residential sales. People in South City had old houses; they needed the old skeleton-key kinds of locks and old-fashioned doorknobs and somebody who'd take the time to listen to the litany of their houses' quirks. Ripper says commercial-sales profits are nice but, given his druthers, he'd rather wait on people who come in perplexed or exasperated and show them how to hook up the thingamajig to the whatsit or get from point A to point B in the surest way. "People want to do it once and do it right," he says. Nights and weekends, he hangs out in the back, repairing frazzled lamp cords, busted glass and the screen the cat clawed. Once a guy called at 10:30 on a Sunday evening, just back from vacation, and his heat wasn't working -- could Steve possibly open up and sell him a part for his furnace? Of course. And every time the guy comes back, they laugh about it.