Friday, September 3rd was a sad day in Battle Creek.   The day started with news of 209 more job cuts by the Kellogg Company.    It ended with Lakeview Hardware shutting its doors for good.   As sad as I was, visiting Lakeview Hardware, it didn’t feel that way at the store.  It was near closing time, and owners Carrie Redner and Craig Walters were conducting business as usual, helping customers find the thing they needed, even if they weren’t sure what it was that they needed.   And they cheerfully talked with the many customers who came in to wish them well in retirement.

“Business was pretty good since we were able to re-open after the shutdown,” said Redner.  But both owners seemed very comfortable with the notion that they’d done enough, and that it was time to retire.  And they have done a lot.  Even on the last day of business, the store is impeccably stocked and clean.  It really was a tremendous hardware store and a rock of the Lakeview community.

Redner said the store’s high ceilings and big windows made it very costly to heat and cool.  She said she’s hopeful that someone will buy the building and make it into something new.  “We had offers on the building during the pandemic, “said Redner.  “There was quite a bit of interest, but we didn’t want to sell the business to one person and then have someone else own the building.”

So they’ll have an auction, a big one, on Wednesday, September 22nd.  “Hopefully, we’ll even auction off the building, if the bid is right.”

Lakeview Hardware-TSM Photo by Tim Collins
Lakeview Hardware-TSM Photo by Tim Collins

Redner said her father bought the store in 1977, just as she was graduating and going off to college. “I had no desire to work in my father’s hardware store, and I did not know anything about hardware.”   She said she was lucky that some old-timers took her under their wing and showed her the ropes.   One was retired machinist John Hicks, who worked at the store into his 90’s.  He was the guy with the limp who worked downstairs, where they repaired windows and screens.

“We hoped that someone would come along who wanted to take it over and still run the business, but it didn’t happen.”

Perhaps fear of competing with big box stores and franchises led to trepidations, but Redner said the real competition now is from Amazon or the online services of places like Lowe’s and Menard’s.

Then there’s just the way companies do business these days.  I ran into a retired maintenance worker from the Lakeview Schools.  He told me the school once bought thousands of dollars of hardware there every month, but in recent years that went away as the schools contracted out that work to companies that got their hardware elsewhere.

When I started at WBCK in 1989, I was delighted that I could go into Lakeview Hardware, get whatever I needed for the project or job I was working on at the station, and just sign for it.   At the end of the month, our local business manager would pay the balance.   But then one of our corporate owners decided we couldn’t have an open charge at the local hardware store.  It wasn’t long and they decided that the local radio station couldn’t even have a local business manager.

That’s what is making me sad today.  So many large corporations operate in our community but not really.  Executives several states away make critical decisions without the same regard that they would if they lived here.  Brace yourself.  

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