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100 Years

Retailer Celebrates 100 Years in Business

The village of Fort Recovery, Ohio, is known for its rich history, whether it’s the battles that took place on the land in the late 1700s or the businesses that have been staples for years. Wangler Hardware is one of those businesses residents have been able to rely on for 100 years.

On Sept. 24, the family-owned and -operated hardware store celebrated that anniversary by hosting an event they had been planning for months.

With an overflowing parking lot and a store full of customers celebrating the store’s anniversary, current owners Patti Jo (PJ) and Mike Minor and their son, Matt, along with their business partner Steve Schmitz, were all excited to celebrate with their loyal customers.

During the event, those in attendance had the chance to mingle with others, enjoy food, watch power tool demos by Milwaukee Tool and enter into drawings to win a variety of prizes.

On top of the fun, the owners and staff all worked together leading up to the event to dig deep into the history of Wangler Hardware, posting information about its past on each endcap at the store and allowing customers to learn more as they walked down the aisles.

In addition to the written history on endcaps, customers could check out cool artifacts from the store’s past.

Hardware History Runs Deep

Like many longstanding businesses, Wangler Hardware all started with one entrepreneur looking to open up shop.

In 1916, Erhard Wangler moved his hardware business from New Riegel, Ohio, to Fort Recovery. He ran the business with the help of his sons, selling items ranging from horseshoes and washboards to nails and plows.

When Erhard retired in 1932, his son Cletus took over the business. At the time, Wangler Hardware was competing with Kleinhenz Hardware a few doors down. In an ironic twist, Cletus actually married the competing storeowner’s daughter, Edith Kleinhenz, Matt Minor explains.

Their son Bill worked in the store for many years, then went to college and eventually returned to help at the store, which was then selling items like appliances, baby buggies, horse collars and guns. In 1944, Bill married and became a business partner with his father until Cletus retired in 1963.

Bill ran the business with his sister Eileen and two sons over the years. Yet when he was ready to retire, both of his sons had followed other career paths. He sold the business to his daughter PJ and her husband, Mike, in 1977.

Fourth-generation owners PJ and Mike had to install a phone, replace the cash drawer with a cash register and move the business to a larger space.

According to Matt Minor, in 1992, they purchased the town’s other hardware store. Then, in 1993, Schmitz, a longtime employee, became a partner in the business.

For nearly nine years, the one hardware business was operated out of two buildings, with two other businesses between them. So 85 years to the day after the first opening, a new location for Wangler Ace Hardware opened, nearly tripling the size and inventory.

The Minor’s had children but they had no plans for a fifth-generation continuation. However, after thirteen years in the lift truck industry, their son Matt and his wife Erin moved back to Fort Recovery from New Orleans in 2015 to join the business.

As PJ and Mike phase out of the business, both Matt and Steve are working together to provide the same quality of service that has been around since 1916, Matt says.

100 Years of Putting the Customer First

Matt says they wanted to update the outside of the store as the 100-year anniversary was approaching.

“We had the anniversary in our minds for at least a few years, and the only thing that kept us from nailing down a date to host the event was wanting to complete our store’s exterior facelift,” he says. “We finished that a few months ago and then worked on all of the details for the event.”

After lots of planning and preparation, the celebration on Saturday was even more special, he says. “We all care so much about the history of the business and want to see it continue on.”

The store’s nearest competition is about 30 minutes away. But customers always know they can find what they need when they shop in the store.

PJ Minor says the main items today are power tools, specifically Milwaukee, where their investment in the line has earned them the title of Milwaukee dealer of the year.

Paint is another big category for the store. PJ Minor says she will even go on house calls to help customers make the final decision on colors and amounts.

One unique niche the store features is picture framing, which they have done for the past 20 years.

Continuing the Family Business

According to PJ Minor, she and her husband were thrilled when they learned their son and his wife would return to carry on the family business with Schmitz.

“It was so exciting and something we hadn’t really expected,” PJ says. “It made us feel good to know we had family continuing on with the store we’ve grown and run for so many years.”

PJ says what has made Wangler a longtime business is that their customers are more than just another sale.

“I think our customers do become friends, year after year, generation after generation,” PJ says. “We know the families, not just the people. We do many things, even unusual things you might not see. I think the service sets us apart.”

And at Wangler Hardware, it’s not unusual to find a customer who has been shopping at the store for years.

“I’ve been shopping here for probably 40 years now,” says Eric Grieshop, a local longtime customer. “I work in manufacturing. I come here for work, but my wife and I also shop here for materials for our projects at home. The Minors are a wonderful and honest family to work with.”

To view photos from the event and pictures from the past, check out the photo gallery below.

About Renee Changnon

Renee Changnon is the retail outreach coordinator for NRHA. She meets with retailers in their stores and at industry events and introduces them to the services NRHA provides. Renee previously worked as a member of the NRHA communications team. She earned a degree in visual journalism from Illinois State University, where she served as the features editor for the school newspaper. After college, she implemented marketing and promotions initiatives at Jimmy John’s franchise locations across the country. She enjoys exploring books with her book club, Netflix marathons and hosting goat yoga at her apartment complex. Renee Changnon 317-275-9442 rchangnon@nrha.org

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