Nelson’s Ace Hardware in Whitefish is expanding in every department when it relocates from its longtime Central Avenue location to a building currently in the final stages of construction on U.S. 93 S.
Co-owner Marilyn Nelson said she is especially looking forward to offering customers a spacious parking lot at the new store, expected to open on Feb. 25.
“First and foremost, we’re going to have 55 parking spaces,” she said. “Parking will no longer be an issue for our business.”
Customers have been going out of their way to patronize Nelson’s for more than 70 years and it’s time to reward their loyalty by providing a more pleasant shopping experience, Mariah Joos said.
Joos is the daughter of Marilyn and Rick Nelson. She will be the third generation of Nelson family members to run the store when she formally takes the reins as owner. Joos, 39, has been part of the family business for a decade.
“We heard from a lot of our customers that we were hard to get to and we saw the need to expand our physical space,” she said. “We’re packed to the gills [at the downtown store], we’re practically hanging stuff from the ceiling to fit more product in.”
The new location is 14,500 square feet and will offer twice the retail space of the current site. New product lines will include Stihl chain saws and Benjamin Moore paints. Joos is excited to stock a larger selection of housewares such as appliances and cooking utensils, as well as live plants and flowers.
The store is also aiming to bring in more sustainable products, she said.
“We’re trying to be more intentional about our product selections moving forward,” she said. “We’re cutting down on the heavy chemicals, trying to buy more organic.”
The transition to the new store at the end of the month will be done in stages, Nelson said.
“Our crazy plan is to keep both stores open for about a week and a half as we move,” she said. “We’ll be taking care of customers by providing delivery between stores and delivery to customers if we need to.”
The new store was constructed in “record time,” Marilyn said. Saurey Custom Builders got started on the project on July 25, 2018, after the purchase agreement was signed on July 24.
The Nelsons are keeping the downtown building and leasing it to the tenant they feel will be best-suited to the community, she said. They haven’t yet made a decision on who that will be.
“It’s not going to be left empty,” she said. “It’s one of the few largest open retail spaces that’s happened in downtown Whitefish in a while. There’s a bit of interest as to what is going to go in there; we want to select a good fit.”
Wilfred and Ruth Nelson first opened Nelson’s Hardware in 1948. Their sons Rick and Don took over as owners in 1974, and Marilyn came on board as co-owner in 2006 when Don retired. Don passed away in 2017.
Though the move was necessitated by both market considerations and a recent loss of the warehouse lease, family ties make leaving downtown bittersweet, Marilyn said.
“It’s hard to contemplate not being in the location we’ve been in for 70 years,” she said. “Rick used to play in the sandbox out back, and count nuts and bolts in the hardware aisle. All of the children and most other family have worked in that store.”
She said it is vital to focus on the store’s future, though.
“We’re doing this in the interest of continuing to provide the best in customer service and selection, so our customers don’t have to go to Kalispell to buy things they should be able to buy in Whitefish,” she said.
They’ll continue to emphasize the formula that has helped fight competition from box stores and online retailers, Nelson said. She said the Ace franchise service philosophy has served Nelson’s well.
“It’s based on exceptional customer service,” she said. “When you walk into any Ace store, you’re greeted and walked to your product. Most of our customers are DIY. Our typical customer is looking for help finding what they need and help figuring out how to do things. You can’t get that from Amazon.”
Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.