Saying Goodbye

Faced with dismal sales this winter and the ongoing effects of the
slumping economy, Isanti’s only hardware store will close this March
after 96 years in operation.

Luke Reiter
[email protected]

Faced with dismal sales this winter and the ongoing effects of the slumping economy, Isanti’s only hardware store will close this March after 96 years in operation.

According to Isanti Hardware Hank owner John Bettendorf, winter is the slow season for his business and although he expected this one to be particularly tough, an early January review of sales showed even worse numbers than he’d anticipated.

Pictured: Isanti will be without a hardware store for the first time in 96 years when Hardware Hank closes its doors in March. (Photo by Luke Reiter)

“It’s a combination of seeing what the sales figures are, knowing that gas prices are going up, which is going to be difficult; it’s my understanding that there’s another wave of foreclosures probably coming, and all of those factors combined along with everything personally that we’ve put into our business makes it just unfeasible to keep going,” Bettendorf said.

After deciding to shut down in January, Bettendorf said he considered simply dropping the keys at the bank and walking away, but instead opted to close things out himself as a way of showing respect to the community.

“I really feel it’s important for me to thank all the customers,” Bettendorf explained.

Breaking the news to customers has been one of the hardest parts, according to Bettendorf. Paulette Gehrke, an Isanti resident, said she relied heavily on the store and was dismayed when she first heard about it closing.

“I was shocked,” Gehrke said.

Gehrke estimated that she shopped in Hardware Hank  at least once a week through the winter and often multiple times a day in the summer.
“I was born and raised here and when you needed something you could just run down to the hardware store. I think that will be sadly missed,” Gehrke said.

In addition to the effect on customers, there is some worry about the impact that losing of such a cornerstone business may have on the Isanti economy. Dustin Schroeder, president of the Isanti Area Chamber of Commerce, said he’s concerned about a potential ripple effect for area retailers created by the absence of Hardware Hank.

“I do think it’s going to affect the community,” Schroeder said.

He explained that Hardware Hank was one of only a handful of large stores with expansive hours of operation in Isanti, and without it more people may choose to take care of errands in Cambridge and elsewhere.

“It wasn’t a good thing to hear,” Schroeder said. “We don’t like to see any of our businesses leave.”

The hardware store originally opened in 1915 at the intersection of Main Street and Dahlin Avenue in the downtown area, and moved to its present location on County Road 5 in 1994.

Bettendorf bought the store in 2003, bringing with him a number of changes including most recently the addition of a movie rental service.

Bettendorf said closing the store has been a difficult adjustment for him and for his family, including children ages eight, six and four.

“My six-year-old was very disappointed,” Bettendorf said. “My eight-year-old wanted to know if we could keep all the movies.”
Despite the unpleasant situation, Bettendorf said he’s enjoyed owning the store and is thankful for the opportunity to play a role in the community, including sponsoring two successful Isanti Ambassador candidates and watching a number of young employees grow and mature into adulthood.

Preserving a sense of history with the store has also been important to Bettendorf during his years of ownership. Antique tools line the walls of the store, and the original 1935 cash register sits on display for customers young and old to enjoy.

“It’s fun to hear stories about the store from years ago,” Bettendorf said. “ In fact we’ve had several instances in which three different owners of the business have been in the store at the same time, which is pretty amazing. It’s sad to see this chapter of local history end.”

Bettendorf also said he’s looking forward to having more time to spend with his family, and although he’s not yet decided what his next career move will be he’s excited by the prospect of working for someone else for the first time in more than seven years.

In the meantime, Bettendorf’s primary focus is on powering down operations at Hardware Hank in an orderly fashion.

“I still enjoy coming to work. This has always been a fun place to work,” Bettendorf said. “We’re still trying to have fun and serve customers.”