MINSTER — Stanley Kuenning, founder and previous owner of Western Ohio True Value Hardware in Minster, turned 85 this year and is still going strong at the hardware store.
Kuenning and his wife, Dona Mae, both originally from New Bremen, opened the store in 1953, when it was originally named Western Ohio Hardware.
Kuenning got his start in the hardware business in 1939. He was 11 when he asked his mother for a pair of long, black pants, to replace the “knickers” boys had been wearing since the 1920s.
“She said, ‘Stanley, I don’t have $1.89 to buy a pair,’” Kuenning said.
He started working at New Bremen Hardware in downtown New Bremen shortly after that, where his main jobs were to smash the stove pipe pieces together with a mallet, and to clean and shine the store’s three brass spittoons.
“What you young people don’t realize is back then, every store had spittoons,” he said. “All the old-timers chewed tobacco.”
Kuenning worked there until the store went out of business.
“Actually, what they did — they became a wholesale company and they split their retail store, and put it across the street in downtown New Bremen, from where the wholesale was,” he said. “And then that’s when my wife and I bought it.”
A hardware store, he said, is something every town has and needs. This idea drove the purchase.
The store moved to its current location on Ohio 66, between New Bremen and Minster, 27 years ago.
Now, Kuenning motors around the store in his motorized chair, stopping every few minutes to answer in-depth hardware questions from the employees who work on the floor. His nickname, he says, is “Stan the Man, the Hardware Man.”
“You won’t believe this, but I get mail addressed ‘Stan the Man the Hardware Man,’ Minster, Ohio, no zip code, and I get it,” Kuenning said.
The store is big, open, and long, thanks to the two remodeling additions completed since it has been open, Kuenning said. Outside there are giant ferns hanging from hooks. The inside looks like a regular hardware store at first glance, but Kuenning points out the personal touches he has added through the years. Along the tops of each wall hang countless antique hardware items including an old bottle capper, old wrenches, and a clothesline tightener. Kuenning likes explaining their uses to people, and emphasizes how much things have changed for hardware stores since 1953.
“Back then, we stocked every light-bulb made on an 8-foot counter,” he said. “Today we have 40 running feet. And I don’t believe we’ve got them all, yet. Because of the internet and the worldwide supply, we buy stuff made in Ireland and China ... And consequently, we have lamps that take different kinds of bulbs, so you’ve got to have them.”
As far as customer service goes, Kuenning takes pride in being old-fashioned.
“We still have men working on the floor,” he said. “And if a customer comes in and needs a trap for his sink and the Buckeye game is starting an hour, they’ll get him a trap and show him how to change it so he can watch the football game before his wife kills him. We try to help serve (people).”
Something he likes about his customers is that they still prefer quality over saving money.
“When mom and dad’s refrigerator goes out, they don’t go buy the $99 one, they go buy the $400 or $500 one they want to last the rest of their (lives).”
Kuenning knows his customers well, and talking to them is his favorite part of the business. Something he has found to be important when creating that connection with people is honesty about the products he sells.
“If I have two products of the same thing and one’s a dollar cheaper, but it does the same job, I’ll say, buy the one that’s a dollar cheaper,” he said. “A buck’s a buck, whether it’s yours or mine. And I think people enjoy being told the truth ... My wife and I and our sons are very proud of our customers, who are very faithful.”
Both Kuenning and his wife are retired now; their son, Scott, owns the store and recently opened up another in Wapakoneta.
He has not stopped working, though, even in retirement. Kuenning can be found at True Value every morning, from 8:30 to 11:30, “unless I’ve got something better to do,” he joked.