A CERTAIN sense of peace can be found in a small hardware store, even among the razor knives and sledgehammers, when the mysteries of caulking and angle cuts are revealed and customers light up with joy, extending spackle-covered hands in gratitude.
At Rittenhouse Hardware, at 20th and Pine streets, Joe Snyder is one of those guys who can transform your day with the right part, or at the very least rig something up to make your day a little better. Snyder's one part of a small crew at Rittenhouse, about a half-dozen men and one French bulldog named Louie in a corduroy vest, whose bonds are tighter than liquid cement, forged by cracking jokes and coffee runs.
"It's like a mini-family here," said manager Mike Thomas, 32.
And like a family, Rittenhouse Hardware is heartbroken over Snyder's absence from the store over the last seven weeks.
On Oct. 26, Snyder, 45, was driving his stepson, an aspiring Eagle Scout, and three fellow Boy Scouts back home to Northeast Philadelphia when he fell unconscious at the wheel. The stepson, Chris Alvelo, 17, unbuckled his seatbelt and tried to regain control of the Ford Explorer as it veered off the road.
The SUV crashed into a parked vehicle near Northeast Philadelphia Airport, killing Alvelo instantly and leaving Snyder with a broken back, leg and ribs, and a fractured arm. The three other passengers, all 15, were treated at a hospital and released.
Alvelo, a senior at New Foundations Charter School, planned to join the Air Force after graduating. He also worked at the hardware store on weekends, his mother, Lori Snyder said.
At the hospital, Joe Snyder told his wife to make sure his co-workers knew that he wouldn't be in work the next day.
"That's the type of guy he was, very dedicated," said store owner Ken Kemp, who would speak with Snyder, an early-riser, every morning before work. "He was dedicated to his family and his job. He loved that boy so much."
Although they can't mend what the crash broke physically and emotionally, the guys at Rittenhouse Hardware are trying to make Snyder's life a little better.
They're throwing a benefit for him from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at nearby TenStone Bar & Restaurant, 21st and South streets. A raffle will begin at 8 p.m.
Meanwhile, at the store, a big mason jar sits on the counter to encourage customers - almost all regulars who know Joe - to drop a dollar or two to help him out.
"We know he'll back in here someday, back at work," Thomas said. "But we figured right now, it would just be good to help him out in this small way. People have been very willing to donate. It's been great so far."
Lori Snyder said her husband is still recovering and likely won't be able to go to the benefit. He was unable to comment yesterday after returning home from a doctor's visit. The family is grateful for the benefit, although Joe's not the kind of guy who'd like to be the center of attention, his wife said.
"Joe's just eager to get back to work," she said.
Snyder worked in construction and maintenance before joining the Rittenhouse Hardware crew about three years ago, Kemp said, and like most of the other guys there, he earned a nickname. Kemp laughed when asked what it was, saying it wasn't fit for print.
"Joe's a guy who could fix anything, the perfect guy behind the counter," Kemp said. "He knows a little bit about almost everything."