NORMAN — After more than three decades in Norman, Ace Hardware will be closing both of its Norman locations within the next few weeks.
Bill Stone, co-owner of the two stores in Norman, said the Main Street location was shuttered July 16. He expects the store at Alameda Street and 12 Avenue SE to be shut down by the end of August.
Stone said about 30 employees will lose their jobs as a result.
“We’re very unhappy about having to close down the two stores in Norman, but we just couldn’t keep sales high enough to cover expenses,” Stone said, adding that the stores began experiencing “cash flow problems” as the economy started to really dive at the tail end of 2008.
Unfortunately for Stone and his associates, the company had expanded in April 2008, adding another store in Blanchard. The company also owned a store in Purcell, which it acquired in the mid-1980s, Stone said.
“Our timing could not have been worse,” he said. “Expanding at a time when the economy was contracting like it was — and continues to do — was absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
Stone said the stores in Blanchard and Purcell, which don’t have nearly as much competition from “big box” retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s, will remain open. But he dismissed the idea that his stores couldn’t compete with the big boys in Norman’s hardware store game.
“It was a challenge to compete with them and we did have a lot of overlap, but I feel like people came to us for certain things and went to them for certain things,” Stone said. “Ultimately, over the past 18 months things have gotten so bad nationally that, even without expanding at the wrong time, we could’ve been in trouble.”
Stone said the current economy is the worst he’s seen in his lifetime. He also fears that his two stores in Norman won’t be the last businesses to fold as the Great Recession lumbers on.
“Yes it is, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” Stone said, without hesitation. “And I’m afraid it’s going to get worse.”
Stone took the company over from his father, Virgil Stone, and said he feels a sense of loss leaving the Norman market. The Main Street store that closed July 16 had been in business since 1978 and was started by a group of retired military officers.
It’s especially hard when the human factor is entered in, Stone said.
“I feel so bad for the employees, but the stores couldn’t keep going the way they were,” he said. “But after we told them, none of them jumped ship. They all showed up for work the next day.
“That says a lot about our employees.”
For now, all of the merchandise from the Main Street store has been moved to the other location at 12th and Alameda. Stone said a going-out-business sale will be ongoing until the doors close in a few weeks time.
Andrew Knittle 366-3540 firstname.lastname@example.org