Bittersweet ending for Detroit Hardware Co.

By ALLIE GROSS
Detroit Free Press
AP Member Exchange
DETROIT — The request was, perhaps, unusual. Janice Slappy was looking for a tool to cut a ring off of a dead person’s hand.
Slappy’s mother had passed away a few days before. Somehow her mom’s wedding rings were overlooked and now the family was struggling to pull them off her hand.
Slappy’s twin sister had already visited two hardware stores looking for the right tool. She found nothing.
“My sister, said, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do.’ I said, ‘It’s OK, I’m on my way, I’m going straight to Detroit Hardware,'” Slappy said.
That sense of reassurance was not misplaced. Without missing a beat, Anna Sparkman, co-owner of the Detroit Hardware Co. on Woodward Avenue in New Center, jumped to action.
“You need this,” she said, handing Slappy a pair of diagonal pliers to cut the ring.
As the customer walked out — a look of relief on her face, one less thing to deal with during an already-troubling time — Sparkman smiled.
“That’s what I’m going to miss the most,” she said. “People coming in and helping them figure something out.”
The Detroit Free Press reports that the Detroit Hardware Co. announced recently on Facebook that it will close next month. The business, which has been around for 94 years, has weathered some of the toughest storms in Detroit. From the Great Depression to the Great Recession, the hardware store has been there.
Owned since the 1950s by two families, the store has seen three generations take the helm. It’s been an institution. But now, just as the neighborhood appears to be on the rise and business is improving, the owners are saying goodbye.
“We’re all at retirement age,” Sparkman’s business partner Emily Webster, 70, said, referring to herself, Sparkman, 61, and their only full-time employee, Vickie Nezwisky, 61, who has been with the company for 44 years.
The owners, who also include Sparkman’s 87-year-old father, Robert Hocking, closed a deal with an unnamed buyer for $1,050,000. While Webster said she’s not at liberty to share who bought the building, she noted that it wasn’t “a group” like The Platform or Midtown Inc., which have been scooping up property in the New Center area.
“We needed a good offer because we’re splitting the money. By the time taxes are paid and we divide up the money, it will make up for us never having a retirement account or a pension,” Webster said with a laugh.
While the transformation of Detroit in recent years has been contentious at times, with a series of small businesses having to shutter their doors due to rising rents, the closure of the Detroit Hardware is different. It’s sad for customers who, over decades, have come to care greatly for the store. But it’s also a win for the owners — who stuck around and persisted and now feel like they’re able to cash out, ever so slightly, after years of remaining.
“We’re leaving on a high!” Sparkman said. “That’s the thing.”