Local Ownership Helps Lake City Hardware ThriveThere are some structures that have stood the test of time in Lake City’s downtown business district, including Lake City Hardware. The Lake City Graphic described the structure as a “magnificent building” when it was completed in 1898.
Local Ownership Helps Lake City Hardware Thrive
There are some structures that have stood the test of time in Lake City’s downtown business district, including Lake City Hardware. The Lake City Graphic described the structure as a “magnificent building” when it was completed in 1898.
What’s even more remarkable is that this site (109 East Main Street) has always been a hardware store/general store, at least since 1881. In 142 years of documented history at this location, there have only been 10 different property owners.
Current owner Joyce Wiederin (Lake City High School Class of 1977) purchased the hardware store from long-time owners Ron and Peg Meyer in 2008. The opportunity to own a business in her hometown marked a turning point in Joyce’s life.
After graduating from college, Joyce pursued a business career in the Quad Cities for a number of years, with roles ranging from business manager at a television station to chief financial officer at another organization. She was looking for a change of pace from her high-stress job, and her family encouraged her to move back to Lake City.
“’If you can find me a job and a place to live, I just might,’” Joyce recalled. “Within 24 hours, I found out the hardware store was for sale, complete with the upstairs apartment.”
While the opportunity seemed ideal, Joyce hadn’t owned and operated a hardware store before. She’s grateful that long-time hardware store employee Joe Steig of Lake City promised to stay on for at least six years to help her learn the business. Steig fulfilled his promise (in fact, he stayed 10 years), and Lake City Hardware has thrived. Today, the business includes three full-time staff (including Joyce) and one part-time employee.
The store stocks thousands of items. “We’re the original Walmart,” Joyce said. “If you can’t find it, just ask.”
Going the extra mile for customers
One of the busiest parts of the store is the paint department. Lake City Hardware is a top paint retailer in the Hardware Hank system. “We really pay attention to what customers need and try to accommodate them,” Joyce said.
Those needs can range from paint to plumbing and electrical supplies to home and garden products. The store sells General Electric (GE) stoves, washers, dryers and other home appliances.
Some customers rely on Lake City Hardware to repair appliances, fix broken windows, repair window and door screens, thread pipes and cut window glass (including glass and acrylic sheets). “No two days are alike around here,” Joyce said.
While the bridal registry used to be a big part of the hardware store’s business, many brides now register at online retailers like Amazon.com. This trend really gained momentum about five years ago, Joyce said.
Although it can be tough to compete in a world of chain stores, big-box retailers and online shopping, it helps to be part of a larger buying group like the Hardware Hank system, Joyce noted. Also, one of the biggest competitive advantages a small, locally-owned hardware store can offer is exceptional service.
“We have loyal customers from Lake City and surrounding towns,” Joyce said. “We try to go the extra mile for our customers.”
Sometimes that means delivering bird seed, water softener salt, mulch or other items to local retirees with mobility challenges. “If a customer buys a package of lightbulbs and needs help changing out the old lightbulb, we can help with that, too,” Joyce said.
“I love old hardware stores!”
Great service also includes offering items customers can’t find in other hardware stores. The basement of Lake City Hardware includes Once, Then...And Again Antiques and Collectibles, which Joyce’s cousin Starla Winter owns.
The Lake City Hardware building itself is like stepping back in time, from the eye-catching display areas in the front windows to the classic squeak of the floorboards went customers walk down the main aisle. The original, ornate, cream-colored tin ceilings in the business office that overlooks the store also hearken back to an earlier era.
“So many people come in and say, ‘I love old hardware stores like this,’” Joyce said. “It brings back a lot of good memories for many people.”
The October 6, 1898, edition of the Lake City Graphic described the store (which was brand-new at the time) from bottom to top:
“The basement is 8 feet high in the clear. It’s also mouse-proof and is fitted at the rear with chutes for the reception of fuel and goods into the basement.
The construction of the basement consumed 40 cords of stone and 900 cubic feet of concrete footings. A most thorough system of drainage has been provided, consisting of a network of tiling 4 feet apart beneath the block, all connected with the large city sewer in the center of the street.
The glass setting, painting, oiling, etc. has been done under the supervision of F.M. Michael, of Hastings, Nebraska. The carpenter work has been under the supervision of foreman J.L. Skeen of Garner, Iowa.
Leading from the first floor near the rear is a fine, large staircase in two flights, with half way landing, leading to the cloak, carpet and millinery departments on the second floor. This room is 42 by 70. The staircase opening is enclosed by heavy rail work in a beautiful pattern.
The thorough ventilation of the building is provided for by 12 ventilators, three in each side wall of each floor. The two floors are to be connected by an elevator system, soon, an opening having been provided for this purpose.
The front 30 feet of the second floor consists of two suites of office rooms, provided with a hallway lighted by a large skylight, have a stairway direct from the street. A toilet room with all modern appliances is also connected with this floor.”
Joyce lived in the building’s second floor (which previous owners Ron and Peg Meyer converted into a three-bedroom apartment) for eight years after purchasing the building. She has invested many resources through the years to ensure the building and the roof remain in good shape for years to come.
Around 2017, Joyce hired Paul Henry (a skilled stone mason from Rockwell City) to tuckpoint the bricks and make other needed repairs. In 2020, he renovated the building’s foundation. Joyce also hired local carpenter Paul Dowling to install new windows on the south side of the store. “This was the first time the building had any significant renovation work done in its history, as far as I’m aware,” Joyce said.
While the former Civil Defense building on West Madison Street had provided extra storage space to house the hardware store’s inventory for many years, Joyce built a new storage building behind the store about four years ago. All this is helping keep Lake City Hardware competitive now and into the future.
“Coming back to Lake City to live and work here has made my life so much better,” Joyce said. “The local hardware store is an awesome place, and so is Lake City.”
Lake City Hardware store building (109 East Main Street) owners/history:
- A.H. Grant, 1881
- Pearen & Bain, 1889-1920
- Farmers Union Cooperative Company, 1920-30
- George Jones & Sons (1930-1944)
- Leland DeSart & Wilbur Gregg, 1945-48
- Kaiser Mathews (Ronald Kaiser and Louis Mathews), 1949-1957
- Mathews Hardware, 1957-1978
- Lymer’s Hardware (Craig and Carol Lymer), 1979-1983
- Meyer’s Hardware (Ron and Peg Meyer), 1983-2008
- Lake City Hardware (Joyce Wiederin), 2008 to present
written by Darcy Maulsby