Alger Hardware Rebounds

June 8, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor hasn't dropped in yet, just about everyone else has returned to Alger Hardware since the store reopened two months ago.

In fact, the customer base now exceeds the numbers the store had before a fire gutted the business last August. New clients have joined returning regulars in roaming the store's aisles after word of last month's ribbon-cutting ceremony made the news.

"Business has been pretty good. A lot of our old customers have come back, and with all the television publicity we got, we've probably picked up a few new ones," said Bill DeJong, co-owner of the store.

"There were people that came in and said, 'You know, I don't live that far from here, and I never realized you were here.' So I think all that television publicity that we got for the grand opening really helped."

A late-night blaze last Aug. 11 caused about $1 million in damage to Alger Hardware at

2408 Eastern Ave.
SE. Smoke damaged Sundaes in the Heights and the Gathering Grounds Coffee Shop, next door at
2404 Eastern Ave. SE
.

DeJong and his partner, Kevan Krenze, held a reopening celebration for the store on May 5, a month after Alger Hardware reopened in early April. Ice cream shop owner Barb Bush took part in the festivities. Eric Taylor reopened his coffee shop last fall.

DeJong said customers are still buying the same type of hardware goods that they did before the fire. But the store was expanded a bit when it was rebuilt, and it now carries a larger supply of bagged goods, meaning that the lawn and garden section gives customers more types of topsoil and colored bark to choose from.

"It's pretty much what I expected," said DeJong of the items leaving the store. "In the spring, lawn and garden is our busiest section."

The new Alger Hardware has an open-truss look inside. DeJong said it resembles a Home Depot but on a smaller scale. The partners left the floor unfinished so it would be easier to maintain. The aisles are wider, and more lights make the store brighter.

As most home handymen know, the independent neighborhood hardware store is a rare commodity today and becoming even rarer. At least two went out of business locally in the last few years. Zoet's Hardware on

Walker Avenue NW
and Jim's Hardware on
College Avenue NE
both closed their doors after lengthy runs.

"What I noticed in a lot of the older hardwares was their inventory was just huge. Items where I'll have maybe five on a hook, they would have 10 or 20. If an item sells fast, that's fine to have a lot of it. But if you only sell a few a year, you don't need to have 20 in stock," he said.

DeJong and Krenze use the just-in-time inventory method as their business model, which is comparable to the version manufacturers use, and that means their money isn't tied-up in goods that hang on a hook.

"We can order twice a week, so we can keep our inventory fairly lean. It's difficult if you're ordering twice a week and putting orders away twice a week. But it helps us to be able to keep our inventory down in depth, but carry a wider variety," he said.

For instance, Alger Hardware carries all colors of stains but in smaller quantities. If one should sell out, DeJong can quickly get more because he orders more often and can order just a few quarts at a time. He said having all colors in stock is more important than having a half-dozen of only a few shades.

"We keep enough around to keep people happy, but we're ordering twice a week so we don't have to have dozens of things on a shelf. We can keep on top of it, keep it moving through, and hopefully turn our store two or three times a year."

DeJong lives in AlgerHeights, and he said being a resident in the neighborhood played a major role in his decision to reopen the store.

"Oh, definitely. In fact, at one point, I told my wife, I think if we decide not to do this we may have to move out of the neighborhood," he said, laughing — "just because I couldn't stand the look from people."        

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