Hardware store closing marks end of an era in Libertyville
Libertyville True Value hardware was closed for business Tuesday, but its front door was unlocked. So as they have for 51 years, customers stopped for this or that.
The relative quiet was the calm before an expected storm today as a liquidation sale of the family business begins with 13 percent off everything.
The sell-off is expected to continue until Aug. 1. Anything left will be recycled, scrapped or donated.
"This should be a museum because it's the last of the originals before big-boxes came along," said Julie Mule, who has been buying "oddball stuff" from the LeJeune family's True Value for nearly 40 years.
The nondescript building on Milwaukee Avenue just north of Rockland Road was built as an independent hardware store about 1955.
It has been a community staple for many, including lifelong residents like Mayor Terry Weppler.
"I remember Libertyville Hardware (then called Maiden's Hardware) when I was a small child. They always had everything you needed," he said on Facebook.
It has remained so through the years, carrying thousands of items large and small.
Libertyville resident Cindy Poland popped in Tuesday for yard waste stickers.
"I always like the local feel, faces you recognize (and) people who actually know how to fix things," she said of owner Ed LeJeune.
"Ed's got everything. He can fix everything. I've been coming here since I was a little kid," Chris Lazzaretto, 31, added as he stopped by Tuesday for a power saw blade.
The LeJeune family has had a long association with the store.
"Dad bought it in '67 and immediately affiliated with True Value," said Ed LeJeune, who has been running the operation solo the last six years. "I started working part time for him (while) going to Carmel High School. We've been here ever since."
His father died in 1975, and Ed and his brother, Lee, took over. After Lee retired, Ed tried to sell the business on eBay and Craigslist but found no takers.
With big-box stores making it a tough market for smaller stores, and his kids having careers of their own, LeJeune decided now is the time to close shop.
"After 50 years, it's time to wind down," said LeJeune, who turns 65 next month. "I can't find people who want to do this any more. I think they're afraid of the big-boxes, but what are you going to do?"
LeJeune plans to sell or rent the building, which has office space on a second floor.
"Your customer base is shrinking all the time and so is your margin," said Amanda Ellis, an independent contractor working for the liquidator, DWS Retail Sales Inc. "It's very, very tough to make a living in retail these days, unfortunately."
Ellis, who travels the country for these jobs, said she's done four hardware stores in the Chicago area in the last 18 months. Expertise and customer relationships are the trade-off for convenience, she added.
For the next several weeks, LeJeune will be busy at the store every day as usual, but the end is coming fast.
"It's going to be tough," he said.