This commercial property has over 10,000 sq.ft. of commercial space plus a 6,000 sq. ft. parking lot. Upstairs has two 1 bedroom apartments. The property is being sold as a three building package.
2018 Fairfield Ave.
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Fort Wayne’s oldest hardware store is on the market
Roger and Betsy Swisher, who have owned Stellhorn Hardware, 2018 Fairfield Ave., since 1969, are offering the business, buildings and a parking lot for sale. Stellhorn was founded in 1883.
(Photo by Bob Caylor of The News-Sentinel) By Bob Caylor
After more than 45 years in a narrow but deep storefront on Fairfield Avenue, the owners of the oldest hardware store in Fort Wayne are selling.
Roger and Betsy Swisher have put Stellhorn Hardware, 2018 Fairfield Ave. on the market. Stellhorn Hardware was established in 1883 just a short distance north of its current location and moved to its current site when the “new” building the store now occupies was constructed in 1950.
It became their business in 1969, when Roger was the manager of the hardware section of the Sears store at Glenbrook Square. It came about almost by chance. Roger Swisher was visiting his father-in-law, who lived nearby, and fell into a conversation with the man who then owned Stellhorn hardware. Eventually they agreed on a deal, and Roger and Betsy Swisher have run it ever since.
The previous owner “sold it on contract, and within a month, I was in here,” Roger Swisher remembered.
In the early years, Stellhorn Hardware was part of the True Value cooperative. But Roger and Betsy both bristled at many of the requirements of belonging to the cooperative, such as the “bargain of the month,” merchandise lots that seemed more hard to move than bargains.
Eventually a dispute over a particular bargain of the month — 24 bathroom scales — persuaded Roger Swisher to break his ties with True Value and go it alone. He’s been an independent ever since.
“You had to find other places to buy things, but there were a lot of (distributors) who were independent, too,” he recalled.
In all those long decades, Stellhorn has had only four owners. Now, Roger Swisher frankly has his doubts about whether it will last through another owner. Running a small, independent hardware store demands more work spread across more hours than many people are willing to offer.
He figures he often works 60 hours a week, though that’s much less than he used to work in the store’s busiest years. Even 45 years ago, long before megastores like Home Depot and Lowe’s arrived and began outcompeting smaller outfits on selection, hours of operation and often price.
There’s more than the original hardware store up for sale. The offering includes another building that adjoins the hardware store on the south. It was most recently a used-furniture store. Before that, it had been a couple of different restaurants, with apartments upstairs. In the 1950s and early 1960s, it was one of the city’s first pizza parlors, according to the Swishers. Immediately south of the former restaurant building lies a parking lot with room for roughly two dozen cars. The property is listed for about $190,000, Roger Swisher said.
Stellhorn Hardware has a sampling of much of the same kind of inventory that larger hardware stores have, from snow shovels to mower blades to nuts and bolts and screws. Throughout Roger Swisher’s decades in charge, he’s also built a large part of his business around service.
Lawn mowers, especially Lawn-Boys, have been a key feature, both as merchandise to sell and a service that brings customers into the store. At the peak of his business, in the first few weeks leading into spring, he often worked until 11 p.m. or midnight getting mowers repaired or serviced in time for customers to begin mowing for another season. He also developed a specialty in repairing screens and windows, and one of the back rooms in his store stocks hundreds of common-size sheets of glass for window replacements.
“I’ve enjoyed my work,” he said, but he’s not going to continue to repair windows or mowers just to stay occupied after he sells the business. Instead, both Swishers say they look forward to enjoying their two sons, their daughters-in-law and their two grandchildren.