At the busy liquidation sale at the Hamline Hardware Hank, owners Jim and Jan Gildner bounced from customer to customer taking advantage of the markdowns on its 15,000 items.
This is what the couple will miss when the store closes next month, leaving this storefront in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood without a hardware dealer for the first time in nearly a century.
“I say to people who start working for us, ‘I really don’t need you to go out there and sell stuff. Just go out there and help people,' ” Jim Gildner said. The sales take care of themselves, and the store has done well financially.
But for the Gildners, high school sweethearts who bought the business 10 years ago, the time has come for a long-earned retirement.
“You start thinking about how many good years do you really have left, and where do you really want to be spending them?” said Jim, who got his first job at a hardware store 54 years ago.
The space at 755 N. Snelling Av. has been a hardware store since 1926, owned by only one family before the Gildners. They had no intention of changing it.
The store has “all the stuff that you didn’t know you needed,” longtime neighborhood resident Cindy Nadler said while shopping at the store’s liquidation sale last Thursday. She was there to say goodbye to the place that always fixed her screens.
The store sports more than just hardware. It sells jelly makers, Christmas lights, muffin tins and miniature American flags.
That homeyness was intentional, the family says.
“To have a hardware store, you have to have something for everybody,” said Jon Gildner, one of four children in the family. He and his brother, who both helped run the store in the past, chose different careers rather than take on the responsibility of owning the business.
As veterans in hardware, the family has learned to move with Midway’s seasons. When they took over, they updated the inventory, and over time, tailored it to the area’s needs.
When it snows, they prepare for an influx of St. Paul homeowners with questions on how to get rid of it. In the summer, business picks up as neighbors turn their attention to gardens and lawns.
As the years passed since the family bought Hank’s, the workload changed. Jim and Jan found themselves working seven days a week. At times, it was hard to find people to work in the store, Jan said.
After trying to find a buyer, the family was ready to move on.
Now, everything is on sale, as the family prepares to liquidate the inventory. Everything from the popcorn maker to the paint mixer is on sale in preparation for the closing on March 28.
The Gildners say the closing is “not a funeral” — instead, they are moving to the next chapter of their lives.
In retirement, Jan said, she will quilt, read and make scrapbooks for her grandchildren.
As for Jim: “I haven’t really thought that far.”
Cleo Krejci (email@example.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.