ARMOUR SQUARE — Hardware store owner Dave Zweifel already speaks in the past tense, as if closing his century-old hardware store is already a done deal.
"We were more of an industrial hardware store, so losing industrial businesses in the area really hurt. ... A couple of ma-and-pa's coming in here and spending 50 cents on screws doesn't pay the bills," Zweifel said.
In business for 128 years, Zweifel Hardware, will soon close after the impending sale of the 12,000-square-foot building at 345 W. 25th Place.
"The recession, it's been so long that we just can't keep losing money for such a long time," he said.
Casey Cora discusses the family business shutting down in the Armour Square neighborhood:
The store began at 2508 S. Wentworth Ave. in 1886 and changed ownership in 1906 when Dave's grandfather bought the business from his father-in-law. Dave Zweifel eventually took it over from his father Herman and uncle Dave Zweifel, who moved from the original location and into the new store in 1960.
Zweifel said business peaked in the 1980s, when he hired eight workers and the registers rang up close to a million dollars in sales annually.
"We didn't even have a credit card machine until 1991. We were strictly house accounts and cash sales," he said.
But the loss or relocation of local industrial businesses — places that manufactured pulleys and wire cable and industrial hoses — put a major dent in lucrative industrial sales.
Zweifel said sales of home and garden supplies never really paid the freight and the emergence of big-box home centers like Home Depot and Lowe's have just delayed the inevitable.
Combined, those two companies have more than 4,000 stores across America and statistics from the North American Retail Hardware Association show customers spend roughly double at the big chain "home centers" than hardware stores.
Zweifel hoped to rescue his shop by working two jobs. His plan was to work the day shift at his place and evening shifts in one of those big-box chains, but that bid was stopped short because corporate policy at both of those companies prohibit the hiring of competitors.
Now, instead of planning for retirement, the 56-year-old father of three is figuring out how to pay a third party to sort the inventory for a blowout liquidation sale. The store's lone employee, Zweifel is dealing with attorneys and real estate companies and wondering what's next.
Most likely, the building will be knocked down.
"For a while it lasted," Zweifel said. "You like helping people. It's rewarding. You got to help people do it themselves."