City's Oldest Hardware Store Still Going Strong

By Eric Olson

December 30, 2011 Updated Dec 30, 2011 at 12:33 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--If you had to pick the best year to live in Fort Wayne Indiana 1886 wouldn’t be far off the mark; industry was booming, incomes were climbing, and just about anything your heart might desire, you could buy in local stores. It’s also the year Stellhorn hardware opened its doors on Fairfield Avenue and while all those other stores are long gone, Stellhorn Hardware is still around, Fort Wayne’s oldest hardware store.

years it’s belonged to Roger and Betsy Swisher, the mom and pop of this mom and pop establishment. Betsy does the bookkeeping while Roger does the heavy lifting. That includes making replacement windows and screens, repairing lawnmowers and small appliances. Roger says it’s key to competing with the big box stores.

“You do what they don’t do,” he says. “You give service, like when I make windows and so forth and repair stuff. They don’t do that. We do.”

Stellhorn Hardware was started by J. H. Stellhorn (Stellhorn Avenue is named for him) and there are still some hints to the store’s age, like the 1915 Master Rule scale Roger weighs out nails on. But much has changed; there are fewer homeowners in the neighborhood now, more rentals. And though the store still makes a profit, Roger says 42 years is just about enough.

“I would like to retire,” he says. “You know I’d like to do something else play a little golf maybe and enjoy myself.”

Finding the hardware’s next owner could be a challenge, someone who’ll work six days a week with Lowe’s breathing down their neck. But it could happen. It’d be nice to have this little store around for another hundred years. This is Eric Olson reporting.

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