An outpouring of support for a 77-year-old homegrown hardware store on Broad Street has convinced the owners the store should not be closed.
The family of the late Isaac Stephens, founder of Stephens Ace Hardware, have reversed a decision announced in July to sell the business, or close it, by the end of the year.
The new decision was based in large part on response from customers and friends in the area who lamented the possible loss of a treasured store that has served the community since 1934. The store has a bit of an old-fashioned look with its hardwood floors and an electric train running along a track at near-ceiling level.
Wray Stephens, one of the five sons of the founder, managed the business for 25 years before moving on to a new and different job. He has been back at the store overseeing the operation since June. This week he said the outpouring of disappointment from so many local people led the family to decide the proposed closing “… just wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Instead, the owners plan to be aggressive in advertising and marketing to remind people the store and its people “are still here.” Some things will be new and different, Stephens said. “We are going to spruce up, add some new product lines, take the lid off and make the community proud. We hope to add staff as sales justify.”
The store currently has five fulltime and three part time employees. Keith Davis will remain manager.
Stephens said some customers have feared that Stephens had been hurt by the arrival of big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. He says that was not the case. Stephens said in an interview last week it was the abrupt decline in the homebuilding industry that led Stephens to close its once lucrative building supply business and related lighting store. The general decline in the economy has taken a toll in other areas of the business. Still he believes Stephens can compete successfully in the hardware market. “We’re not better. But we are different,” he said last week. He said the big stores can’t afford to have clerks spend time with each customer, hunting through the store for exactly what he or she needs or offering to take purchases to the car of a customer who needs help.
Wray Stephens likes to remind people that Stephens is a pet-friendly store. He takes his dog, Pepper Jack, to work with him every morning. The two spend much of their time near the door greeting customers. Customers’ pets are welcome as well.
One section of Stephens Hardware inventory that has been enlarged and moved to the front of the store in recent times is pet supplies. Pepper Jack is credited with bringing about that improvement.
With the decision to remain in business, Stephens is returning to its former hours: opening weekdays from 8 a.m. till 6 p.m., on Saturdays from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Stephens said the store owners would still consider an offer to purchase the business. But, as in announcing the initial search for a buyer, the owners do not want to sell the building and land. They would want to lease the properties to someone who would want to own the business.