PAULLINA—On the corner of South Main Street and East Broadway Street in Paullina, you can see all kinds of people going in and out of Paullina Hardware.
Housed in a historic brick building downtown, the store has a glass front door that opens to a large, sunny space. There are shelves of paint supplies, garden tools, screws and mops – all the odds and ends that keep life buzzing and things running.
In the aisles, there are farmers stopping for parts and young DIYers busy with home projects. Often there are children underfoot, eager to browse the toy section or marvel at the new collection of e-bikes at the front of the store.
“When we started out, we were like, ‘OK, should we really focus on this or that? What shouldn’t we be focusing on so much?'” said store co-owner Eric Brown.
He and his wife, Heidi, took over the store in 2018, when the business was named Weidaman’s True Value Hardware. They changed the name of the store because they wanted to signal that it was owned by the community.
“Every small community needs a good hardware store, and in our small community, we don’t want people having to drive to get what they need,” Eric said.
They decided to continue offering a wide variety of products and services.
“You can come three times a day if you’re working on a project,” Heidi said.
“We do a little of this, a little of that, but it’s intentional,” Eric said. “Anything we can be for our community is what we want to do – whatever need we can fill. That’s a bit of everything. »
“A Bit of Everything” includes a few idiosyncratic side activities. At the back of the store, there is a miniature bike shop, and with bikes available for purchase, there is a designated area for bike repair. The walls are lined with neatly organized tools, and there’s a bike rack in the center where Eric, a mostly self-taught bike mechanic, gets simple machines back in working order.
Just recently, the Browns moved the basement repair business from the hardware store “to the light,” Eric said.
“It’s really picked up this year – all the bike stuff,” Eric said. “For four or five years we’ve been thinking, ‘What should we do? What are we good at? What are we not good at? »
When Letsche’s Bike Shop and RadioShack in Cherokee closed in 2018, it was the only repair shop serving a number of area communities. The Browns bought all his tools and stepped in to fill the void.
“We thought there were a lot of things you could do at a hardware store,” Eric said. “We could fix screens and fix windows, but I thought, ‘No, that’s way more fun. “And there’s no one else who does.
“If we can get people to cycle, that’s a good thing,” he added.
They also brought more people onto the water. At nearby Mill Creek Park, the Browns have a fleet of personal watercraft — kayaks, paddleboards, and splash mats — available for campers and other visitors to rent by the hour or day.
The Browns seek to create a vibrant center in their small community. However, Eric and Heidi, who are 35 and 36 respectively, had no plans to be small-town owners. Moving to Paullina from Minneapolis with their young family was a homecoming for both of them — but it was somewhat unlikely.
Eric grew up on a farm near Paullina and graduated from South O’Brien High School in 2005. Heidi graduated the same year from Cherokee High School, and the two have known each other since middle school, when they met at school. ‘church.
Prior to purchasing the store, neither had retail experience and neither aspired to own a small business. They both worked in healthcare and both loved their jobs. Heidi was a board-certified child specialist at a large downtown hospital, where she supported children and families dealing with the emotional effects of hospitalization. Eric worked as a paramedic, specializing in hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
The Browns were city dwellers, having spent years living first in San Diego and then Minneapolis, and while they sometimes yearned to be closer to their family and the farm where Eric grew up, they were content with the shape of their life. It took a paradigm shift for the two to take the leap, Eric said.
“I remember thinking, ‘The city has so much to offer us; he has so many opportunities for us,” Eric said.
However, the years passed. They started having children.
“Our mentality has changed from ‘What does this place have to offer me?’ to ‘What can we offer this place?’ Said Eric.
When they learned that Paullina’s hardware store was for sale, things clicked and they realized that running the store would be a way to put down roots in a community and help it thrive.
“We said, ‘Yeah, we can come and do that. It might not have everything a city has, it might not be next to an airport, but we have kids, we can’t fly anywhere anyway,” said Eric laughing. “We may not have our favorite coffee on the street, but we can make the most delicious cup of coffee at home.”
They took the leap.
A family business
The Browns have been running Paullina Hardware for more than four years, and in that time they’ve added three more children to their family. They now have Bently, 9; Eloise, 7 years old; Owen, 5; Vika, 3 years old; and Felicity, 1.
Heidi found out she was pregnant with Owen during their first week running the store in 2018, and from the start, Paullina Hardware became a place where business and family were integrated, not separated. After the birth of their fourth child, Vika, the little baby became a mainstay at the store.
“I either wore her or we put her in bins and Tupperware bins when she was napping,” Heidi said. “We had a lot of fun with it, and the community really enjoyed it too.”
After the birth of their fifth child last year, Heidi stopped working regular hours at the store to look after the couple’s five children. They often drop by to meet Eric for lunch or to say ‘Hello’, maybe a little help before heading home.
Heidi said that owning a store in a small town means getting to know the practical needs of customers, but those needs invariably spill over into more personal territory. A customer coming in for putty or wood polish might also mention a granddaughter who recently had her arm put in a cast.
“It’s a blessing to be in retail – getting to know so many different people,” Heidi said. “We get to know their needs – for their home and for their life.”
Bikes and kayaks
At Paullina Hardware, the Browns are committed to creating a space that appeals to a variety of people and meets a variety of needs. This commitment also transcends the walls of the store.
Each summer, Paullina Hardware sponsors and hosts an annual kayak race at the Paullina Gemboree Summer Celebration. Community members of all ages form teams and compete in races at Mill Creek Park ahead of the Saturday night fireworks display.
The boat races reflect the Browns’ desire to encourage outdoor recreation of all kinds, whether cycling or water sports. They want to make recreational opportunities accessible to everyone.
“Every Saturday we have a group ride,” Eric said, referring to the group of cyclists who come together weekly to ride 20 miles or more. Anyone is welcome.
The pandemic has slowed the supply of bikes, but shipments are resuming and the store continues to increase inventory. In addition to adult bikes, including the new e-bike collection, there are also a number of children’s bikes for sale.
“We’re just trying to promote recreation in our community,” Eric said. “We do a lot of work to get people to ride bikes and peddle.”
The Browns also plan to expand their water recreation rental business, and the O’Brien County Conservation Board recently accepted their offer to rent the small octagonal structure on the beach that once served as a concession stand.
The Browns prepped the building for retail space — hauling out firewood that had been stored there for years, scraping years of fat from the fryer, and applying a coat of primer.
“We will also have live bait, and fishing, camping and swimming supplies,” Eric said.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, visitors can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and wading pools, and while in the past the business was run in a somewhat ad hoc fashion, they intend to staff the building throughout the summer.
“Makes a great date night,” Heidi said, referring to an evening spent paddling kayaks. “Or it’s just a way to get out on the water and fish a bit, otherwise someone can have it all for their family and spend the day together.”