FOREST VIEW – The Tool Store and Go-Kart Shop, at 4529 Harlem Ave. in Forest View, is every gearhead and grease monkey’s dream come true. On one side, racks and racks – and then even more racks – of tools of every type line the shelves. You can pick up anything from wrench sets to bolt cutters big enough to cut a battleship chain and paint guns.
On the other side sits go-karts that look like stock cars and Japanese bullet bikes small enough to fit in a duffel bag. There also are mini- and motocross bikes for kids, motor scooters, three- and four-wheeled ATV’s, and for the really big kids, there are even a few Harleys.
As if that’s not bad – or good – enough, there are medieval swords, perfect for any living room wall.
Behind this mind-numbing, tongue-tying Fortress of Solitude, you will find owner Jim Welch, an affable guy who you sense knows just how much power he wields to make customers powerless to the siren song of brands such as Makita, Ingersoll Rand, DeWalt, Milwaukee and S&K.
Welch’s deadly web started when he was 16, when he began helping a neighbor sell shoes on Maxwell Street during its heyday. Out of high school, Welch headed to California to pursue his passion for motocross racing.
“I came back flat broke, so I had to sell my tools,” Welch said. “My phone was ringing off the hook.”
It was then, he said, he found his niche.
For a while, he returned to Maxwell street to sell tools, then he opened stores in Stone Park and Marengo.
In 1993, he relocated to Forest View, where he is today.
The 51-year-old entrepreneur and Forest View resident said his customers are largely truck mechanics, followed by homeowners and auto mechanics. In 2004, Welch bought the strip mall where his store was located and expanded his operation. He said he still likes to dabble in real estate, and owns several other buildings south of the store.
“It all started with $400 in tools,” Welch said. “We hear it every day: ‘I’ve been past here a thousand times, and I always wanted to stop in.’”
Customers come in from as far as Indiana and Michigan, Welch said.
Today, Welch has 18 people on the payroll, four of which are full-time mechanics. His son, Niko, 18, helps out in any capacity where he is needed. They repair essentially every motorized vehicle they sell, plus snow blowers, even mowers.
Over at the “toy store “ as Welch calls it, scooters are a hot seller these days, primarily do to the high price of gas and the low price for scooters, which start at $700.
“Lots of drag strip guys buy a lot of this stuff to buzz around the drag strips,” Welch said. “They use the golf carts and ATV’s to tow their cars back to the pits.”