A 50-something woman, Lou Thompson, grew up in a time when women didn't venture into hardware stores unless accompanied by a man.

Most stores were cold and uninviting establishments, their shelves stocked with U-joints, hand tools and stacks of lumber. In Thompson's day, most hardware store customers were men, and invariably, the stores were run by men."I don't feel as intimidated here as I would in a plumbing shop or speciality store," Thompson said. It's more friendly than going into a lumber yard. Here you can look around a while."

Welcome to the softer side of hardware. While The Home Depot carries traditional building fare for contractors and hard-core home-improvement buffs, the nation's largest improvement retailer offers a number of services and departments that cater to female consumers.

For starters, a lot of women work in the store. Mike Pulver, store manager of the Park Centre Drive location, said The Home Depot's corporate philosophy is progressive. Pulver transferred to Utah from the company's Southern California region, which consists of nine stores. Of the nine, three were managed by women.

On the store floor, female employees observe that women appear to be more at ease discussing home-improvement projects with other women.

"I think it's more comfortable for a woman to ask another woman. They don't feel as intimidated," said plumbing specialist Povie Arnold.

Home Depot carpet specialist Debra Michaels, a transplanted Californian, said she believe Utah women, many the stock of pioneers, may be more prone to tackle home-improvement and maintenance chores.

"In fact, when I moved here two years ago, one of the first things I noticed was all the women mowing and edging their lawns. You'd never see that in California," Michaels said.

By-and-large, most of the women whom Michaels assists in the carpet department are confident enough in their skills to handle their own projects. If they're unsure, they take advantage of The Home Depot's customer classes. Nearly 40 percent of the customers who attend the store's ceramic tile-installation courses are women.

"I had one lady in here who wanted to install her own carpet," she said. "It's really not that difficult as long as you have the right equipment to do it."

To hear Pulver tell it, a good number of women venture into home repair out of necessity. "We end up helping a lot of single mothers. They've got a problem they're trying to solve, and there's no one else to do it."

According to New York-based EDK Forecast, most women own basic fix-it tools such as plungers, monkey wrenches, drain openers, ladders or fire extinguishers.

Married women are more likely than single women to have at least four of the five basic tools (84 percent vs. 69 percent), but it doesn't necessarily mean the male partner brought the tools to the marriage. A fair number of married women purchased their own tools when they were single, the survey of 500 women nationwide indicated.

And for engaged couple who need more tools or home-improvement items, The Home Depot offers a bridal registry. From lighting and decorative accessories to gas grills, the pratical-minded bride and groom can choose from thousands of items to outfit their first home.

In most cases, says Home Depot interior designer Marcia Lemongello, both partners register for gifts, as well as participate in home-design decisions.

"More often than not, it's both of them together (making home design and decoration decisions)." Lemongellow said. "These days people live alone before they get married. They've had their own places for so long that I have to try to create something that works for both of them."