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Posted on Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Downtown hardware store closes in Chelsea after decades of business

By Erica Hobbs


The Chelsea Village Hardware Store closed its doors on Jan. 5.

John Counts |

When Lottie Martin opened up Gambles hardware store in downtown Chelsea with her husband Don Martin in 1940, she said it was a different time. Paying just $25 a month to rent the store at 110 N. Main St. and the rooms above, Martin said she used to shuffle back and forth working in the shop downstairs and taking care of her young children upstairs. In the midst of World War II, Martin said she and her husband came up the hard way.

“Everything was rationed,” she said. “You sold what you could get, and there was a lot of stuff you couldn’t get.”

Now, 73 years, four name changes and several owners later, the now Chelsea Village Hardware store has closed its doors. In a letter to the Chelsea Update, current owners Tom and Pattie Clemons said it was a hard decision to make.

“I gave it my all and put everything I had into it,” the letter, which included both of their names, said. “I hope that support for downtown businesses will grow and not let this happen to anyone else.”

The Clemons, who could not be reached for comment, had owned the store since 2001 and were the last in a series of people who had called the downtown hardware store their own.

Martin said she and her husband sold the store in 1947 to brothers George and Carl Elkins and their sister and brother-in-law Ruby and Wes Howes to open what is now Martin’s Home Center in Tecumseh.

Joyce Johnson said she and her husband Sam Johnson then bought out the Howes in 1968 to become partners with George Elkins and his wife Virginia Elkins. In the 1970s, the store changed its name to “Our Own Hardware” after changing from the Gambles supplier, she said, and again in the 1980s to “Johnson’s How To” when the Elkins retired. The name changed once more in 2001 to “Chelsea Village Hardware” when the Clemons took ownership.

“It was a Chelsea institution, it’s been there for many, many years,” she said. “It was a small hardware store that performed lots of things that the big boxes no longer do. I’m sure the Chelsea residents are going to miss it.”

Johnson’s daughter, Chris Hawker, has spent much of her life at the store. Hawker worked at the shop for the past 20 years doing the store’s bookkeeping and computer work but said she remembers sweeping floors at 5 years old and later wrapping presents and cleaning when she worked there during high school.

Hawker said her favorite memories were working with her parents, talking with the customers and visits from Santa at the store at Christmas.

“It makes me very sad,” she said. “I know Chelsea enjoyed having that hardware store downtown, it’s been there for so long. It’s sad to see that institution go.”

Chelsea Downtown Development Authority President Peter Flintoft, 70, said the store was older than he is and was the last of three hardware stores in downtown Chelsea to close. He said, in addition to selling hardware, the store was also the downtown’s only small machine repair shop.

“It was a great convenience to everybody,” he said. “There are a lot of memories and a lot of people that worked there that we all knew.”

Bob Pierce, executive director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, said the business had been a tremendous supporter of the community for years and he was sad to see it close. He said the closing should bring greater awareness to communities of the importance of supporting local economies.

“People don’t realize and think about this, our local businesses pay an awful lot of taxes, and that translates from public safety to our streets,” he said. “It’s a multifaceted problem when we don’t support our local businesses.”

Owners of nearby shops said they too were saddened at the loss of a fellow downtown store.

Michael Jackson, owner of Vogel’s and Foster’s clothing store, said it was great to have a downtown hardware store but competition was tough.

"That industry has changed tremendously in the last few years," he said. "I’m very sad. He is a very good person for the community. I’ll miss him and his business. “

Jane Diesing, who co-owns the Village Shoppe of Chelsea, said she was concerned the downtown was containing fewer “everyday-use” businesses and fewer people were shopping downtown. She said the hardware store had served the community well.

“[The Clemons] are very nice people and we enjoyed doing business there as a store,” she said. “Personally, my husband used them for the go-to place for sales and services of small engine tractors and parts. They will be missed.”

Erica Hobbs is a freelance reporter for



Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

I'm heartsick that this business closed. I was a regular customer and they were always courteous and helpful to me. When I bought a lawnmower and weed whacker from them, they gassed them up and added oil, then showed me how to start them. They even delivered the lawnmower to my home! If they didn't have something in stock, they ordered it. The prices were competitive and I was happy to give them my business. I wish them well. They will be sorely missed.

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 9:24 p.m.

Lowes, WalMart, and Home Depot thank you for your business!


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

Personally I always received amazing service by the clerks in the store, yes everyone has their off day but they were always pleasant. On the other hand I always felt as though I was a bother when I went in the back for parts. The man that worked back there was always rude and did not seem as though he really wanted my business. At one time I brought one of my tools in for repair to the hardware store and I was told no more then one day but when I called the hardware the next day I was told only a few more days by the man in the back, this continued for 3 weeks before I received my tool back. How does one day turn into three weeks! I never took any tools back there again. Yes it is a shame that the local business is gone now.


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

Part of the problem with downtown stores in general is that they thrived in a day when far less people drove cars. Many people who own mowers haul it with a trailer--- you need wide open parking lot if you have a trailer. I think Chelsea could use a excellent small engine/sales repair shop but would have to move to a more accessible location. Back in the day there was nobody better at small engine repair than Tom- so think about moving. Leave downtown to the knick knack shops.


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

They had a driveway in back, so you could just unload stuff there. I've used it.

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

Interesting point about the cars aspect. It does seem like hardware stores need an "accessible" location.


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 1:30 a.m.

The reasons this hardware store did not attract enough buyers to stay open are complex. First, there are 5 other stores selling similar products within a 1 mile--Chelsea Lumber, ACO, Farmers Supply, McCalla Feeds, and now Family Farm & Home. While each store carries different product, much of what they sell is the same. My first stop was always Chelsea Village Hardware. And despite what many of you might say or think, their prices were not more than the big box stores and if they were, barely--certainly not enough to justify the gas--and the time--to drive to Ann Arbor or Jackson. The fact is that consumers today buy at different places for different reasons. ACO has the best paint department in Chelsea. I am surprised that Chelsea Lumber sells any paint at all. The department there lacks in every way possible. Chelsea Village Hardware was even worse. When decorating a bedroom or envisioning a kitchen...when you are standing in front of a bunch of paint cans with old worn out shelves and floors, well, it's just not very inspirational. What I loved about Chelsea Village Hardware was the personal service from people who know who you are--maybe not by name but by face. Sometimes their lack of product choice was exactly what I needed. I don't want to spend hours pouring over the reviews of the latest leaf blowers, I appreciated they carried 1 or 2 well respected lines and with one of the guys help I was able to figure out which Stihl machine was for me. The Village Shoppe next is she is still in business? I mean no disrespect, but her product line is just plain boring. A few nice things here and there but the whole store needs an up do. Her China made gifts are yesterday. Potting Shed owner seems to understand what buyers are looking for. She's expanded onto Main. Her store is full China made glitzy high-priced items. The tourists are buying---the locals--including me--only at gift time. She'll rent the hardware space...I am sure of it


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

Have to agree with the ACO paint thing. I needed a color our child wanted for her room? They made it almost match. So, yes, ACO is great for paint. Plus a few outdoor things as well.

Not from around here

Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

I love how people from ann arbor can take a story about something NOT happening in ann arbor and make it all about ann arbor!


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

This is too bad, this was a very good store. This is very sad! I loved that store


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 4:21 p.m.

Chelsea Lumber and these other stores have just as much stuff marked made in China as Lowes and Home Depot.I've shopped at all of them.In you don't want China goods put it back on shelf and don't buy it.A few years ago I bought pipe and fittings to run a gas line at one of the local hardware stores. The only leak I had was right in one of the elbows which had a small pinhole init. MADE IN CHINA was stamped right on it.Had to tear all of the piping back to the elbow and replace it.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

I'm sorry to say that I'm not surprised. I shopped at Chelsea Village Hardware numerous times because I prefer to patronize local businesses and love having a vibrant downtown. However, the service was substandard; the clerks were unfriendly and unhelpful -- at every visit. They simply didn't make me feel like my business or my money were welcome, so I now shop another local hardware store where the service is outstanding.


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

The reason being is probably because they were understaff. The last time I went in they were. So I looked around and found what I needed. Plus a few other things I shouldn't have but did. Great holiday stuff too.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

It is sad to see a local business go but I need to state how it seemed like I was inconveniencing them when asking for help or even stepping foot in the store. I am a downtowner but chose to drive to Aco. As a person who shopped nearly 100% in downtown Chelsea for Christmas gifts I am excited to have a more customer focused business open on our vibrant main street.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

We still have Chelsea Lumber though. Too much to ask of a small town to support 4 hardware stores. Please, Shop Local so local people have money to spend where YOU work!!


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

Sad news! Too bad Village is closing while the other "hardware" store at the south end of town (which has horrible hardware but lots of prepared food!) is staying open. I will miss them. I have to wonder if the new Family Farm was the final nail.

Susie Q

Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 1:34 a.m.

what hardware store south of town has "prepared food"?


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

Perhaps that other store can afford to stay open by selling prepared food, which may have a higher profit margin than the hardware items.

Silly Sally

Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

I have a good friend who is convinced that he saves when going to Lowes or Home Depot. He i so wrong. I find that Stadium Hardware and Carpenter Bro have lower prices for most HARDWARE items, and I can buy the quantity that I need, not in a package of 20. They have expert advice, something that is scarce at a box store.True, they do have better prices on bulk pipe and smaller stores do not have a large selection of gates for chain-link fences, but over-all, both Stadium and Carpenter brothers, as well as ACE are quite competitive. I find that Stadium, Carpenter Bro, and Ace all have a better selection of basic hardware items, especially Stadium, and I am in and out quickly, not spending a lot of time searching for it. Yes, I would go to a box store for a good selection of toilet seats, but Stadium to fix the toilet or the plumbing.


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 4:22 p.m.

Well, unless you want to drive to Tecumseh? You will have to do the big box hardware stores. The one in Tecumseh is so friendly. I needed something and told them what I needed? The customer said go help her I can wait. The part I needed was in bulk not bags and I only needed two of them. Going to miss Chelsea hardware. I was in the area for something else btw.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

As a resident of Chelsea, I have to say this is extremely sad to see. I tried to purchase as much as possible from the Tom & Patti Clemons since they took over the store, and from the Johnson's before them, realizing that the big box stores and the chain store out near the highway were serious competition. This really is a black mark on downtown Chelsea and it's residents, which also lost it's downtown market this past year and saw our post office move outside of the downtown area. Downtown Chelsea is becoming nothing more that a collection of restaurants and nick-knack shops, all geared towards people from outside the community, and this is the wrong direction to take. No longer will we run into neighbors and friends in downtown Chelsea while we shop for nuts & bolts, paint, fresh produce or baked goods. This is terrible.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

I love this store. But as we say here in Ypsilanti? Another Mom and Pop shop bites the dust to big business. Going to leave a big hole in Chelsea's downtown district. Now it is time to drive a long way to another store just to get a cheap part. Good luck to the owners.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

I take exception to the News repeated use of Downtown Hardware throughout this article. The name is the Chelsea Village Hardware. The repeated use of downtown confuses readers with our own Downtown Hardware in Ann Arbor which is thriving as we speak.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

. . .or was it Downton Hardware? I think the flagship store was in England


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

Lynel and Sally, Jack's Hardware is located on Packard near State. They are a full service hardware with quite a selection and vast knowledge. No, I don't work there, just shop there.

Silly Sally

Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

Where in downtown Ann Arbor can I buy parts to fix a leaky toilet, carriage bolts, or a thermocouple for my furnace? Stadium or Carpenter Bro has them, but they are not downtown.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:09 p.m.

Are you talking about Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor? If yes, that's a very different type store from Chelsea Village Hardware. There isn't an actual hardware store in downtown Ann Arbor.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

Where is Downtown Hardware?


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

I'm so sorry to see this happen. The old downtown hardware stores are becoming rare. I hope this can serve as a reminder to those of us in Dexter of what a great institution we have in Hackney Hardware! Hackney is always my first choice for hardware and home supplies. This is especially important knowing that a new Menards is coming. Sometimes I end up needing to go to the "big box" but I try Hackney first.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

I'll add the hardware store in northeast Ann Arbor. It's on the back side of Plymouth Mall. Though there is a sign for the hardware store in the front of Plymouth Mall, much of Plymouth Mall is now blocked from the sight of passers by on Plymouth Road. Buy local.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

And Stadium Hardware is a gem! Their customer service is outstanding. They've even done small repairs for me on the spot.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

lynel and Sally, Jack's Hardware on Packard near State is a full service hardware.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

It hurts when a local business like this closes, especially if they sold quality tools, goods and offered sound repair advice. Home Depot and Lowes do not cut it as they sell China made junk for tools and repair advice is poor at best. The community is to blame for not keeping places like this in business.


Wed, Jan 16, 2013 : 2:15 a.m.

Hey Grandpa, substandard "repair advice" is just fine if it saves me money. For those of us literate with technology, Google (and free message boards) provide way more information than anyone at a hardware store could. So I will gladly buy from Lowes/Home Depot if it saves me money. The best part is, if you aren't happy with the product or didn't end up using it you can return it to these places with NO ISSUES! I remember trying to return stuff to the local hardware store and they complained and found reasons not to take it. The internet killed local retail stores, accept it, adapt, find new skills and move on. Don't punish people for not buying local, it's called economic evolution.


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 : 5:20 a.m.

Not that many people care. If they did, they would have shopped there and it wouldn't have had to close.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 5:45 p.m.

Unfortunately, even local store owners sell items made in China because that's all there is in many categories. We have an aunt who continued running the family cabinet and toolbox manufacturing plant in a midwestern city. A long time ago they sold toolboxes and stand alone cabinets to stores such as Sears and HWI and their local hardware store members. It got to a point where she couldn't compete with the products made in China. She had to close the factory in the U.S. and import products from China if she were to continue to stay in business. She decided that if she had to lay off her U.S. employees, she'd rather just close down the business (she was over 70 then). It's competition at the production level that killed production businesses in the U.S.A.. The big box stores were buying the cheaper products made outside of the U.S.A.. Competition at the production level as well as the retail level hurts American workers. Our aunt had no choice but to shut down the plant. She refused to run an import business and closed the business. However, when she sold the manufacturing property because the land was desired for other uses, she was left with sizable funds and (though I don't know about severance for the workers) I doubt the workers left with much.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

HB11 obviously has no clue. Everybody thinks that saving a penny is best for them. No foresight to the long term outcome of their decisions. We all need to stop buying Wallyworld junk and go back to our roots of buying from the local guy. He is your neighbor after all.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

HB11 Please explain HOW the current owners could have "changed" their business model to survive! This is a sign of the times. Not necessarily a failure of the owners to change their business model.It IS the fault of all of us. We get what we want. And we show what we want by where we shop.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

We shop there, they do offer good prices & goods & advice. More area people should have shopped there instead of driving miles to save a few bucks. What a shame. Thankfully, there is no Walmart in or near Chelsea, nor would it be welcomed. The closest Lowe's is in Ann Arbor.

Jack Gladney

Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

The retail business model has indeed changed. Welcome to Wal-Mart Nation. Good luck getting expert personal attention at Lowe's or Home Dept. I knew more about electrical and lighting than the DIY experts there who were attempting t help me the other day.


Sat, Jan 12, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

The community is not to "blame." Everyone wants to blame someone else for their ills. If the industry's model changes, you may have to change yours as well to remain competitive. I bet the Chelsea store sold many Made in China items as well, but your fondness for the store may be clouding your memory.