LINCOLN PARK — Although it remains a neighborhood hardware store at heart, selling screws and nails wouldn't have been enough to have kept Armitage Hardware in business for the last 75 years.
The stretch of Armitage Avenue just east of Bissell Street, which was once dominated by the family owned hardware store, now features a PNC Bank branch, Paper Source — a stationery store — and soon will lose its hardware storefront to a high-end clothing retailer, Peruvian Connection.
“We decided the property is too valuable to take up that much space,” said Brian O’Donnell, president of Armitage Hardware. “The [new] space will work for us without a problem. We are still here. We are still your neighborhood hardware.”
The business first liquidated its inventory and downsized from a 10,000-square-foot showroom in 1994 to focus on selling grills over the Internet, but made sure to keep a storefront that served as an old-school hardware store.
“People were saying ‘If you are going to be here, can’t you still put hardware back in?’” O’Donnell said.
The more recent move to a storefront around the corner on Bissell Street was completed this month, O'Donnell said.
O’Donnell was 7 years old when his father, Dan O'Donnell, bought the building, and since he took it over, Brian O'Donnell has maneuvered the store through the challenges of big box shops, such as Home Depot, rising property values and the Internet.
The Internet was his key to staying afloat, and continues to be more than 15 years after he purchased the domain name webergrills.com and transformed the core of the company to a grill dealership. The O'Donnells now focus on selling Big Green Egg grills, but their business model hasn't changed.
While the company ships about 14,000 orders for grills, strollers and tools a year to 14 countries and all 50 states, the O’Donnells have no intention of leaving the neighborhood.
“You’ve got Home Depot, so we had to do something that would make up the difference in the lost business,” he said.
When the company downsized the first time, Eric O’Brien had just begun working for the business, and through its most recent move to Bissell Street, he decided to stay the course with the O’Donnells.
“I was the only one willing to stick around,” O’Brien said of the first downsizing in 1994. “I actually get more walk-ins now.”
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