By DENISE FEDOROW
A family tradition in Nappanee for nearly 55 years will come to an end when Martin Hardware closes.
The store opened in 1958 and was owned and operated by Raymond Martin. In 1972 his son Dennis “Denny” Martin bought the business and has been operating it ever since in downtown Nappanee.
“We’ve been a family tradition since 1958 and our motto is, ‘If we don’t have it, we can get it — if we can’t get it, you don’t need it,’” Denny said.
Martin states that confidently because his hardware store has three floors, 15,000-square-feet stocked with merchandise—70,000 items in stock and Martin said he has connections across the nation that allows him to order another 100,000 items quickly.
Martin said the store’s staff prided themselves on having top quality merchandise and top quality service at a fair price. Martin is also proud of the fact that during the past 55 years they’ve fixed and repaired all kinds of items. Things like replacing lamp plugs or lamp sockets, repairing screens and windows, threading pipe, cutting keys, customizing sporting goods and so much more.
Martin said the store carries top quality table tennis items and the staff will customize paddles for customers, saying some folks pay around $300 for a customized paddle. They also have a tennis table robot that is like a pitching machine for table tennis. They’ve also provided customized service for baseball mitts.
“When someone comes in to buy a softball or baseball mitt we take them all down, have them try the mitts on and ask, ‘Which feels best to you?’ and determine the best mitt for the position they’ll be playing,” Denny said.
Then a staffer tightens the strings to fit the customer and condition the mitt. “No one does that,” Martin said.
The staff will also re-string a well-loved, broken-in mitt and re-condition it, “Make it better than new,” he said.
In this family-owned store a shopper can find many different departments, including sporting goods, lawn and garden, nuts and bolts, a clothing line, paint and fasteners and building materials
“I could probably tell you what we don’t have better than what we do,” Denny said. “We don’t have lumber.”
The passion and pride for his business comes through as he speaks about it, which begs the question — why is the store closing?
“I think it’s time — I’m 62 — it’s time for a new chapter in my life while I’m still upright,” Martin said.
He plans to do some traveling, spend more time with the grandchildren, do some fishing and sailing.
“I want to travel with my beautiful wife,” Martin said and mentioned the East Coast as a likely destination. His wife Sherry wants to see the Radio City Hall Rockettes.
Sherry has worked for Dr. Robert Able in Wakarusa for the past 28 years and their children chose other occupations that they are doing very well with, according to Martin.
Martin said that while he has been preparing for the sale, “I’ve found some things in corners I didn’t know we had.”
Things that might be of interest to antique seekers, including a 1917 cash register, a cupboard from the Coppes Hotel, that used to be next door, and items from the Shively Corp. that once upon a time inhabited the hardware store’s building.
When asked what the community will do without the unique services Martin’s has provided over the years Denny said, “That’s the part I hate because we loved serving the people and loved serving the community.”
However, he said, “It’s not too late for someone else to purchase the business and the building is negotiable.”
Martin expects the store to remain open another eight weeks or so and while the going-out-of-business sale is going on he brought in some extra employees to help, knowing things will be hectic.
“We want to try to still uphold a customer service standard they’re used to,” he said.
Speaking of employees, Martin’s Hardware has some loyal staff members — most have worked there for five years or more. Betty Fervida has been there 30 years and Amanda Graber, who’s been there almost that long.
“We’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have people stay as long as they have. We’re kind of like a family,” he said. “They enjoy what they do and as long as they’re doing a good job, I give them free reign.”
He added, “We’d like to thank our great employees we really could not have done this all these years without the fabulous employees we have.”
One of those employees, Amanda Graber, has been with the store for 25 years and she shared what she’s enjoyed the most.
“Meeting people, helping them solve problems, being hands on, fixing lamps and whatever needs fixing,” she said. “I love solving problems like ‘how do I get this plumbing job done?’ or ‘what tools do I need for this project?’ just the general knowledge I could share.”
Graber said she’s also an avid gardener so people would come to her for gardening advice, too. She said she’s not sure what she’s going to do after the store closes, but she’s not ready to retire full time yet.
“I haven’t had time to think about it, but I’m sure there’s something out there for me. God will provide something. I like working and being busy,” she said.
Graber said she will miss the customers. “The customers have become like family to us, they’re why we get up and come to work.”
There are two things Denny will miss most once the store is closed — he will miss the people the most and he’ll miss the access he has to parts for home projects.
“Sometimes I do projects at home late at night and there has been many an evening when I’ve needed to get a plumbing part, where I’ve come up at midnight or 1 a.m. to get the what I needed to finish the project,” he laughed.
But he agrees the customers have become such an integral part of his life. “We’d like to thank everyone who has supported Martins over the last 55 years,” he said.
He shared that there has been a certain group he saw daily. “There’s been a faithful group who has come in every morning and we’d solve the problems of the world before dispersing to our jobs,” he laughed. “The only thing missing was the pot-bellied stove!”
Martin’s Hardware is located at 151 E. Market St. The phone is 574-773-3541.