LEMONT – There might not be an existing store that better exemplifies the old downtown Lemont business district than Peterson’s Hardware at 225 Canal St.
Owner Elsie Peterson takes pride in the old-fashioned look of the business, which has had four different locations in that block since her father, Arthur Peterson, first opened it in 1930.
But at age 86 and with none of her children interested in ownership, Peterson said she has been trying to sell the store for several years, along with the rest of the buildings on the block she owns.
Peterson said the sale process has been slow because of the economy. She does not know what would happen to the property if it were sold, but she said that it would likely change.
“Most of the buyers we had were not considering it as a hardware store,” she said. “They were buying it for property.”
Peterson said she first started working at the store when she was 14. She, along with her brother, Arthur, took over ownership in 1948 after their father passed away.
While her brother worked in construction and took on other business opportunities, she has been primarily responsible for the store, she said.
Her brother has now retired, leaving her the sole active owner.
The store remains a family business. Peterson’s daughter, Karen Kempa, and granddaughter, Lisa Wlodarski, work there. Her son-in-law, Scott Wlodarski, has also been an employee for more than 40 years.
The store was affiliated with Ace Hardware for about four decades but ended that association about eight years ago, Peterson said.
“We (would have) had to revamp the entire store, and, at our age, that was something we couldn’t do,” she said. “We couldn’t borrow a million dollars at our age.”
Peterson said the big-box hardware stores have changed the business, but she has tried to keep her store the same.
Scott Wlodarski said the employees try to have a personal relationship with the customers, listening to the fix-it problems they are having around the house.
“You’re kind of like a doctor and a priest all in one,” he said.
Peterson said the business still has a niche as a place to get hard-to-find items.
“People that work at Menards – Lemonters that work there – will recommend our store to somebody that lives two blocks away,” she said. “An employee at Menards will send them here because they don’t have that item.”
Peterson and Wlodarski are both concerned about the state of retail businesses in downtown Lemont.
Wlodarski said many retailers are going “up on the hill,” referring to places further away from the lower ground canal area that makes up the downtown.
He said if Peterson’s Hardware closes, it would further hurt the downtown business district.
“I think it would be a big blow to the town because of all the years we’ve been here,” he said. “Everybody knows we’re here. The town can’t afford to be losing another business.”