By BARRY ADAMS, Wisconsin State Journal
POYNETTE, Wis. (AP) — The butcher shop, grocery stores and other retailers that years ago helped make for a thriving hub of commerce have vanished from this village’s downtown.
And the next few weeks will see one more establishment added to the list of retail casualties in this village of 2,494 people in southern Columbia County. The Poynette True Value Hardware, a fixture of the village’s downtown before it moved in 1987 to a new building on Highway 51, will be soon be closing its doors for good. Although the 4,000-square-foot store is on the small side, it nonetheless has managed over the past 32 years to offer almost all of the wares customers expect to find at a hardware store. There are hand tools and power tools, fishing tackle, fan belts and trailer hitch accessories.
“Do I want to drive to Madison or Portage?” asked Shaun Lapacek, who opened Rock N Wool Winery about five years ago a few miles north of the village. “It’s not a good thing. You need places like this.”
Lapacek, who uses only Wisconsin grapes to make his wines, was in the store recently to pick up tent stakes, a construction square and a pair of plastic jugs for gas and diesel fuel.
On a recent day, Mike Hausmann wandered the depleted aisles and spent time chatting with the owner, Randy Schultz, at the store’s front counter. Hausmann himself had owned the hardware store from 1994 to 2004.
“People go to a hardware store because they have a definite need,” Hausmann told the Wisconsin State Journal. “There were 14,000 items in here and, 99 percent of the time that people walked in here, they found what they needed. Well, that’s going to be gone. And they’ll be hard-pressed to ever get it back.”
Unfortunately, Poynette is not an anomaly in its loss of its hardware stores. Other places, Rio, Pardeeville and Wyocena, all within a 15-minute drive of Poynette, now have no hardware store. In Cross Plains, west of Madison, the local hardware store was bulldozed nearly three years ago to make way for an apartment building, and Punzel’s Hardware in Jefferson closed in 2014 after being in business for 55 years.
A multi-store blow came late last year when the owners of World of Variety, a seller of hardware supplies founded in 1971, announced it would be going out of business and closed stores in Fennimore, Boscobel, Cross Plains and Mount Horeb. But the closings haven’t been exclusive to small places.
In Madison, for example, an 8,000-square-foot Ace Hardware store in the Meadowood Shopping Center on Raymond Road closed in 2012 after being in business for 25 years. In 2013, the Dorn family closed its 13,000-square-foot True Value store in the Northgate Shopping Center on the city’s North Side and later closed its store in downtown Madison after the building was purchased for the expansion of a nearby grocery store.
The spring of last year brought the closing of an Ace Hardware on Cottage Grove Road. The site had also been home to a Meikle’s True Value Hardware and before that, in the 1960s, C&P Hardware. The space, for now, is the temporary home of the Pinney branch of the Madison Public Library.
“Big box” retailers like Walmart, Menards and Home Depot are certainly all partly to blame for the demise of local hardware stores, and the closings haven’t been exclusive to smaller places.
But in Poynette, Schultz, who purchased his hardware store in 2006 after doing route sales for 20 years for Pepsi-Cola and a six-year stint with the Columbia County Highway Department, said his struggles with selling hardware were greatly aggravated when Dollar General opened. He lost sales of household items and cleaning products and had to adjust his inventory accordingly.
The opening of a Mill’s Fleet Farm late last year hasn’t helped. Schultz, who owns his building, had been trying to sell his business and its $220,000 worth of stock for the past three years. He had reached out to other local hardware company owners and, just before Christmas, thought he had a buyer. But the deal fell through. Schultz, 64, is now eyeing retirement and has the building listed for $320,000.
“I can’t complain about the business over the last 10 or 11 years but just this last year has been terrible,” said Schultz, who was born on a farm in DeForest and graduated from Sun Prairie High School. “It’s been hard. But most of my customers work in Madison. But the businesses (in Poynette) are the ones that are going to feel it. Because they’re going to have to pay their employees to drive to Portage or to Lodi or DeForest to go get a nut and bolt.”
One of Poynette’s biggest assets is its schools. In November, voters in the Poynette School District approved a $28.4 million referendum to build a new elementary school, make safety and security improvements and remodel areas in the local high school used for science and technical instruction, among other things.
Brent Harris, vice president of the Poynette Area Chamber of Commerce, has owned and operated an insurance office in downtown Poynette since 2017. He said the successful school referendum will help attract families to the village but said local businesses are also indispensable. They provide goods and services and in return also support local organizations and nonprofit groups. He has purchased all of his tools for the office and bird feeders and feed at the Poynette hardware store but will now have to go elsewhere.
“You can save $3 on a $100 drill and give the money to a huge ‘big box’ corporation that’s going to do nothing in return to help our community,” Harris said of shopping at national chains or buying insurance from agents not in the village. “If people want to go that route, I don’t blame them. Just don’t come to the small businesses and ask us to support everything under the sun if they are not willing to support us. It’s frustrating. We want this community to grow and be more than just a suitcase community.”