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Ray’s: paint, hardware, and a whole lot of friends

By Rod Lee

Durability may be what Ray’s True Value is best known for, and not just because of the store’s standing as one of the town of Millbury’s longest continuously operated businesses (officially 40 years, in 2017), a rock-solid relationship with its main product supplier (True Value) or the hardiness of the hand tools that are part of $400,000 worth of inventory (a standard or metric wrench and a custom circular saw blade—for instance).

Of equal or even more importance to Ray’s large and diverse customer base is an awareness that a Dubois has been on the premises from the beginning. First Raymond E. Dubois Sr. and now his son Raymond E. Jr.—known to his employees as “J.R.”

“We all worked for my dad, we five kids, from a young age,” Ray Jr. said of himself, his three older sisters and younger brother, during a conversation in his office at the back of the store last Tuesday. “Stocking shelves, cleaning. I had about a five-year hiatus after high school when I got into the construction trade as a sprinkler fitter (for fire safety). I had a motorcycle accident too that put me out for a year. I came back [to the store] and made a commitment and [then] I was all in.”

From Ray’s True Value’s humble beginnings in what is now a Rite Aid on Main St. (going farther back than that it was the Hilltop Market) to a relocation to the Masonic Building on South Main St. to its current home on Howe Ave., Ray Dubois Sr.’s influence has been ever-present (he died in June of 2007 while on vacation in California). Once he decided to go into the hardware business after working for the local housing authority, in a “roadway warehouse,” serving in the Air National Guard and Reserves and selling insurance, Ray Sr.’s objective was “always to help people,” his son said. “He never looked at it as a business, it wasn’t about making a fortune.

“If my dad was alive today he would still come down here, I am sure of that.”

In Ray Jr., a big man with a graying beard and mustache and graying hair accented by black-framed glasses and black boots, the store has continued the elder Dubois’ initial determination which was to serve the needs of locals. Clientele consists of “our share of contractors,” as Ray Jr. puts it, along with “DIY’ers: the homeowner Jim who needs this or that.” The dynamic has changed with the increased use of technology; also, “a lot more women are doing their own thing.” But Ray’s formula of being there with hardware, paint, ice melt, lawn and landscaping materials, propane and the rest remains the same.

On its present site for more than twenty years now, Ray’s True Value depends on the patronage it gets from residents of Millbury, Sutton and the south side of Worcester; customers who have been “very supportive,” Ray Jr. said.

As a True Value retailer and a throwback to the hardware stores of yesteryear (such services as key cutting and window and screen repair are staples), Ray’s draws strength from its co-op membership in a company that has evolved beyond its reputation as a provider of high-quality hand and power tools. The “True Value Foundation” is an example of this. The Foundation was established to assist underserved youth and children with an emphasis on education and community vitality. The Foundation lends support to such organizations and initiatives as the Boys & Girls Club of America, Painting a Brighter Future and Habitat for Humanity.

Ray’s True Value also taps into True Value’s allegiance to DIY’ers, as reflected in the “True Value DIY Idea Shop” which offers advice on “home projects;” how to build a modern picnic table, how to create an herb and succulent garden, how to stain cabinets.

In the early days Ray Dubois Sr. was aided by “good friends who helped him” get started, Ray Jr. said.

That boost made possible the long run Ray’s True Value has enjoyed.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.