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Hard times for hardware store

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It is a daily struggle for Janel Griffin and Brett Long to keep the doors of The Hardware Store in Hartville open.

“It is so difficult right now,” Griffin said.

Just keeping the shelves stocked is difficult.

She believes supplies are hard to get because the small store suppliers themselves have been shorted since the big chain stores like Menards and Lowe’s are prioritized thanks to their huge orders.

“Before Covid hit, it was picking up a lot. We had ordered really well in the spring before, so I had a lot of good supply,” Griffin said.

Thanks to the shutdown, that good supply became hard to sell. Consequently, profit was hard to come by and paying for those supplies was difficult.

“We were never able to really catch up. We were only making a fraction of what we should have off what I had ordered. We were just able to pay bills,” Griffin said.

In a small town, any competition can have a large impact.

Griffin said The Hardware Store’s local competition was Fisher Feed and Farm Supply that stepped up to sell hardware when The Hardware Store closed prior to Griffin and Long’s reopening it.

“I am really trying to move away from the farm supplies to separate us so we’re not in direct competition. I’d really like to swap the inventory around to do what they don’t do,” Griffin said.

She said that with their 2018 purchase of The Hardware Store came a huge inventory of stock that they would not normally sell.

“We’re known for having the stuff that no one else has, the oddball thing that goes into the house built in the 1930s, the fuse that no one made since 1945. We might have that because we were left without that stuff,” Griffin said.

“We’re the emergency stop,” Long said.

Stocking a wide variety of new items was made difficult since unlike a chain store, they have to buy everything they sell and cannot return unsold items to a warehouse.

However, sales were picking up until the May 2019 tornado struck Hartville, damaging the Town & Country Supermarket and hurting sales by sending Hartville residents to other towns to grocery shop.

“If you’re going to be in Mountain Grove and there’s an Ace Hardware right there, why wouldn’t you just get everything in one stop?” she said.

Just the same, The Hardware Store survived and was coming back.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic came next. Both Long and Griffin caught the virus twice, which closed their store each time. Long cannot be vaccinated because of other medical issues.

Consequently, it has been hard for the store to get traction.

“It’s like we’ve started three times,” Long said.

“We’ve never really gotten a firm footing,” Griffin said.

In Hartville, they have heard themselves referred to as the outsiders from California.

However, Brett Long came home. He grew up around Hartville near Jerktail, Mo. His family has been in the area since 1840.

He met Griffin, another small town resident, in California and convinced her to come back to his hometown to learn the nuts and bolts of hardware.

She saw her own small town impacted by the loss of a Stanley tools factory. Stopping a small town from withering on the vine was consequently attractive to her.

“It’s a mission of ours to be part of a revitalization of small town’s downtown,” Griffin said.

However, she said the near future for The Hardware Store looks bleak.

Trying to meet the varied needs of their customers has meant the stocking of what they were told were necessary items like router bits that seldom sold.

“Every person that walks in the door is looking for something very different, so it’s really difficult,” Griffin said.

Consequently, she and Long are trying to change the focus of the store by keeping the popular small hand tools and power tool accessories and replacing other stock with items that will sell.

In the meantime, they are exploring other methods to stay afloat.

They rent a portion of their store to Daniel Jalaly’s Harvest Grow Supply and are considering selling items that focus on that clientele, who come from as far as West Plains to buy special soils and the like.

Griffin said there is an influx of potential customers: community-minded homesteaders and organic farmers looking to become a real part of Hartville.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is another regular customer.

They also have some items taken on consignment that fill some empty shelf space like art framed in 100-year-old barn wood.

Long taught himself to use a CNC router to fashion signs that are selling as fast as he can create them. He hopes to make enough to have an inventory on hand to generate even more interest in potential clients.

“If that happens, we’ll be able to pull us out of the hole. We’ve been pretty lucky, and it helps that I’m getting better each time,” Long said.

They are in the planning stage for an auction of the old stock that came with the store perhaps this fall over the Fall Festival weekend.

“There’s a lot more stuff than we even realized, but it’s all older stock,” Long said.

They said they are widening their customer base beyond just Hartville area customers. Long believes customers from outside Hartville help keep it alive.

He remembers the Hartville of his youth and would like to see it return to that.

“I would love for Janel to see what this town looked like when I was a kid when there was a business in just about every building. I remember that. Now everyone just wants a building to store their hoarding stuff in,” Long said.

The Hardware Store has seen its hard times. However, Griffin and Long have experienced Hartville’s compassionate side.

“We do have a small group that is very loyal to small town businesses. They try their hardest. They always stop here first. I feel terrible when we have to turn them away,” Long said.

If he does, he makes it a point to support his fellow Hartville business owners.

“I will always refer them to someone locally, whether it’s Fisher’s, Chris King’s Amish store, wherever. I try to keep everything in Hartville. I would love to see Hartville thrive again. That’s why I joined City Council,” Long said.

He said Hartville residents are wasting an opportunity to make Hartville special and hopes owners of empty buildings put them up for sell to let someone else have a location for a new business.

“It’s so disheartening that people would rather see their stuff crumble away rather than give someone else an opportunity,” Long said.

Griffin’s interest in improving Hartville does not stop with The Hardware Store.

She is on the board of the Community Betterment Foundation that runs the Thrive Center and is renovating the former Subway building to start a luncheon bistro featuring fresh baked goods.

She looks forward to changing the image of The Hardware Store so that it is not seen as competition for local stores but rather as a store that adds to the landscape of a small town and its main street.

She and Long are dedicated to seeing The Hardware Store become a valued part of that landscape and to keep its doors open.

Hartville’s Chamber of Commerce President said that since 2020 three of Hartville’s businesses, Subway, US Bank and a daycare center, closed their doors while Stockman’s Bank, LFR Powersports and Indian Creek Antiques opened for business.

It was a break even proposition. However, she knew of the possibility of new business coming to town.

If The Hardware Store closes, its back to breaking even, which is no growth at all.

Long and Griffin want to keep Hartville growing.

“We’re going to do it until we can’t. The day that we close is because we have tried everything,” Griffin said.

One thing they have tried is a GoFundMe fundraiser that garnered both positive and negative feedback.

Griffin and Long choose to focus on the positive from the like-minded Hartville residents that want to see a local store with a long history continue.

One local stopped in The Hardware Store just long enough to say, “I don’t do GoFundMe, but here’s this.”

He placed money on the counter and quickly left. The gift, an investment in the future of a small business in Hartville, broke Long’s composure for just a moment.

“It’s people like that that give me hope,” Long said.

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