First the neighborhood supermarket closed. Now it’s the hardware store.
The True Value Hardware store on Janesville’s south side has displayed signs advertising a liquidation sale over the last few weeks. The store, a retail staple on the south side for more than five decades, is closing—likely by May, owner Tami Larson said.
Larson said the True Value store experienced a sharp drop-off in foot traffic after the General Motors plant was shuttered in 2009. In the decade since, the local economy has recovered, but foot traffic to the hardware store at 1516 Center Ave. never rebounded.
A former teacher, Larson said she has owned and operated the True Value since 1996. She has tried four different times in the last 10 years to sell the hardware.
“Since GM shut down, the business just hasn’t come back. Attempts to sell the store have failed. It’s just time,” Larson said. “If it’s not devastating, I think it’s going to be really disappointing to people on the south side.”
Larson talked this week about the store’s closing as she stood at the front checkout counter.
Next to her was a half-empty display of folding pocket knives made by Steel Warrior and Frost Cutlery, pegged inside a velvet-and-wood-framed case.
Customers came and went, filing past the counter and a soda cooler with a sign that read: “Sale: Pop and Water. Final. Cooler not for sale.”
Some customers offered condolences and head shakes as Larson talked about the choice to close the hardware store, which local retailers say operated as a True Value since 1968. Before that, the white Quonset hut-style building housed Blackhawk Hatchery, a chicken hatchery and feed store.
Larson has a wall calendar from 1958 that shows a color picture of the 8,500-square-foot store when it was a hatchery. The store today still has a small-town general store feel, although some aisles are emptying as True Value approaches its closing date.
Larson has been holding a clearing-out sale since mid-February, and she guesses the store likely will close by May.
The store’s demise comes a few months after the Pick ‘n Save on Center Avenue closed in November. Larson said the supermarket’s closure further cut down on traffic to her store, but she’d made up her mind to close around the same time Pick ‘n Save pulled out.
The Grafft family has since bought the Pick ‘n Save property. Officials have said the family plans to gear the property for potential industrial and commercial reuse.
Larson said GM’s departure was the main reason behind the decrease in foot traffic, but online shopping also has put a dent in the store’s business.
For years, Larson’s father ran several True Value stores in northern Illinois. Now, she said, even mom-and-pop hardware stores that have a strong neighborhood following see more shoppers coming in just to pick up online orders—if they come in at all.
Dave Homan, a store employee, stood at the sale counter with Larson. He listened as Larson talked about retail trends, her store’s pending closure and Pick ‘n Save’s pull-out last year.
“Even if it’s more complicated, it feels a little like dominoes falling,” Homan said.
Homan, a Rock County Board member, said when he learned the Pick ‘n Save would close, he called some local grocery store owners to ask if they’d consider opening a store in the former Pick ‘n Save.
As an elected official, he thought he might get some answers for the south side.
“Nobody responded,” Homan said.
Gale Price, Janesville’s economic development director, late Tuesday said he’s aware of the south-side True Value closing.
He said the city is now reviewing a plan for a new hardware store along the West Court Street corridor. Price wasn’t immediately able to give details on the west-side project or whether it would be a franchise hardware store.
Larson said her store’s relationship with True Value is a “cooperative” agreement that involves buying a certain amount of inventory from True Value, rather than a franchise agreement.
Dave Riemer, who owns one of two Ace Hardware stores in Janesville, said he’s saddened by the planned south side True Value closure.
“There’s a certain brotherhood among other smaller hardware stores. We don’t necessarily consider the other store the enemy,” Riemer said. “We’re all battling against much larger companies, the big boxes. It’s always sad to see somebody in hardware—and a store that’s run that long—go away.”
In the months since Larson decided to close, all 10 of her employees have stayed on to help. Most have worked at the True Value for years.
“Nobody left. All the guys opted to stay with me to the end,” she said.
Larson said she plans to put the building on the market within weeks. She said some interested buyers already have looked at the store for potential commercial reuse.
She said it’s ironic that her business was tied, by and large, to the needs of GM workers. Within weeks, the GM property’s new owner, Commercial Development Company, is slated to demolish the plant and has plans to ready the 300-acre site for multi-use, industrial redevelopment.
“I really do believe that in a couple years, if that (GM site) is redeveloped, the south side will have some economic growth return,” Larson said. “For us, it just didn’t happen at the right time.”