Against the odds, mom-and-pop hardwares hang on

At least for most us suburbanites, the steady march of chain-store America has overwhelmed whatever defense small business could mount. Businesswise, at least, if you’ve seen one town, you’ve seen them all.

In my  ‘burb, city officials approve one chain after another, then fret that the place doesn’t seem to have a “there” there. That it is indistinguishable from any other suburb, as if their actions didn’t have something to do with it.

Even in cities, it’s getting more difficult for small business to hold on when the chains move in or the developers offer money that no business owner can turn down for their property.

We lost a jewel in St. Paul a few years ago, for example, when Seven Corners Hardware closed so that a developer could get down to the business of putting a wrecking ball to the neighborhood charm of the Seventh Street area near Xcel Energy Center.

Smaller hardware stores, like the independent pharmacies before them, are a dying institution. So today’s Duluth News Tribune article on the fight hardware stores are putting up in northern Minnesota is somewhat comforting.

Menard’s, Fleet Farm, and a host of bigger companies have destroyed some of them already, however.

“I haven’t noticed anything,” owner Mark Moran at Denny’s Ace Hardware in Duluth told the paper about the threat posed by the new Fleet Farm. “We just provide the best service we can. We try to put in products not available at the big box stores.”

“If they were sitting in our backyard it would be different,” the store’s co-owner Roger Lundquist said of Fleet Farm. “I like their wide range of their products, but it doesn’t affect our business at all. We are a community hardware store and our community generally stays with us. There has been no impact or even any discussion about it from our customers.”

Still, Lundquist knows first-hand how damaging big box competition can be. He also was part-owner of Bingham Hardware on Banks Avenue in Superior. The store closed in 2006, after nearly 120 years in business, after Menards opened on nearby Tower Avenue.

One store owner said the big chains send people his way for nuts and bolts, so he’s able to survive. Maybe someday, however, the chain will figure out there’s money in nuts and bolts and that will be that.

For the most part, the hardware store owners interviewed seemed to be taking a page from the famous showdown in Brattleboro, Vt., where a local guy ran Home Depot out of town with kindness and courtesy to his customers, something the big fellas can’t or won’t supply that the so-called “mom and pops” can.

Faced with competition from big-box retailers, the mom-and-pops go out of business for one reason alone: People who shop choose the bigger store. We vote on what kind of community we want every time we spend money, then lament the lost character of a neighborhood or town that we caused.

Maybe today would be a fine day to buy some nuts and bolts.

  • Gary F

    I used to sell to hardware stores 20 years ago. It’s good to see Denny’s Ace and Marshall Hardware Hank still in business. I don’t get up to Duluth that often but it used to be a great hardware town. Marshall hardware featured in the article is a old school as they come.

    But you gotta shop there. Or they go away.

    True Value had a good motto years ago. Make your local hardware store your “store of first choice”. They may not have it, it may be a little or even a lot more than the big boys, but stop there first when looking for something.

    • I do that all the time as Nokomis Hardware is literally 2 blocks from my house. Most times they will have what I need.

      Nuts and bolts – I have noticed that the big box retailers have started to get a wider selection of specialized fasteners.

      /As an aside, I worked at Sears selling hardware back when I was in college. I learned a TON about tools while there.

      • Gary F

        Not sure which one is smaller but Nokomis Hardware in Mpls or Noll Hardware on Raymond in Saint Paul are the smallest footprint stores in town. Ten pounds in a five pound bag.

    • John O.

      There are a number of Ace Hardware locations in the southern ‘burbs that are thriving and growing. Excellent customer service, friendly staff, and they do small engine repair and other services such as glass cutting, screen repair, etc. at a reasonable price. Nobody else does that anywhere in our area.

      • Gary F

        That’s a good thing.

  • KTN

    There is still a great neighborhood hardware store in north Minneapolis – North End Hardware. If you go in for say a plumbing issue, and tell them this doohicky that connects to the other doohicky is leaking, they will know exactly what you need. I don’t believe that type of knowledge gets imparted at a big box store.
    Great owners who are super involved in the local community, which is why they are thriving. Can’t say enough good about the store.

    • Gary F

      An asset to their neighborhood.

  • MikeB

    I shop the independents where I can, hardware stores are the primary example.

    “We vote on what kind of community we want every time we spend money, then lament the lost character of a neighborhood or town that we caused.” – cannot emphasize that enough.

  • Jerry

    The advantage of the local hardware store is that it is local. It is where you go when you need a couple things right now. It may not be the right choice when you are supplying a big project, but when your bathroom is leaking or you run out screws in the middle of a job, there is no better place to go.

    • Jerry

      And let me ask you: when was the last time you saw a really chill cat sleeping in the window of a Menards?

      • Kassie

        Also the smaller city stores are more used to dealing with the issues that come with a 100+ year old home that are in their neighborhood. You can’t really get any advice at a Home Depot, and when you can, it is likely that it won’t apply for a house that originally didn’t even have electricity.

        I’ll add being in a house that is only 96 years old has cut down on some of those issues. The house I had from 1896 was a constant nightmare. You never knew what you would get when you opened up a wall.

    • jon

      My parents bought their current house brand new, just built, almost 20 years ago now… I forget the name of the builder, so I’ll call him stan, stan builders.

      My father went into the local menards, and asked for an exterior outlet cover for a round box, (And odd piece) the guy in the electrical department said “you’ve got a stan home! Did they paint all the ends of the wires in your place too?”
      My father confirmed, they yes it was a stan home, and yes they painted all the wires in his house as well.

      There is nothing to stop a big box store from having local knowledge (and carrying an odd outlet cover for a box that isn’t normally used for that purpose) they just generally don’t bother…

  • Erick

    Wlena Hardware and River Lake Hardware in South Minneapolis still give great service and have for years.
    It should be noted that Frattelone’s Ace has aggressively moved to try and drive River Lake out of business (they opened just two blocks away) and that they are in fact a chain disguised as a neighborhood store.

    • Gary F

      Larry, the founder and father, Mark and Tom Frattalone, sons, are still local people who have just been very good at finding the right areas and making sure their stores are stocked, clean, organized, and lots of help.

      And, the Welna’s, I think Mark, the son now runs the stores, have been great neighbors and are an asset to their neighborhood.

      • Markola

        Frattaloni’s rocks. There are two great ones on Grand Avenue in St. Paul alone.

  • Jordan Green

    I’m lucky up here in Fargo/Moorhead with Mac’s Hardware. I’m there practically every week for projects at home or at work. Bolts are still sold by weight, they have a good selection of good tools, and their service is great.

  • Bob Sinclair

    Buy the nuts and bolts, otherwise you’re screwed.

    (ducks)

    • Jerry

      You know the drill, I saw what you did there. You really nailed it so there is no need to hammer it home.

      • Zachary

        Clamp it down guys – no need to lumber into another pun thread(ed).

  • Zachary

    on my third trip that day into the local Ace store one Saturday, the guy asked me “what are you trying to do?”. You don’t get that level of service at a BBR. And yes, he was able to keep me from coming back in that day.

  • Development didn’t force the closure of 7 Corners.

    *YAWN*

  • Hoorayy! I believe the marketplace should decide which companies will win, and which should lose. It’s nice to hear about the little guy winning.

  • Jack

    Ace over in Columbia Heights will change the battery in your key fob. Doubt BBR would do that.