The turnout Wednesday for the unannounced "soft" opening of the new Geneva Ace Hardware humbled co-owner George Havlicek.
Many of the more than 220 people who came into the store at 617 W. State St. told him they were happy to see "their" Ace store was reopening, he said.
"I know people really missed the store," Havlicek said.
The store is in the same space as the old Geneva Ace Hardware store. In 2010 that store, under a different owner, dropped its Ace affiliation and became a Do It Best dealer. It moved to a vacant grocery store on West Lincoln Highway in St. Charles in February 2011, then closed abruptly in August.
Havlicek, who owns Havlicek Builders, said he has talked for a long time about opening a hardware store. "It wasn't just a thought that jumped into my head," he said. But he was pretty busy building houses, and didn't really have time to pursue it until the real estate construction frenzy ground to a halt during this recession. He applied for an Ace franchise about three years ago, and is thrilled to get one in the town where he lives.
He owns the store with his wife, Lynn, an interior designer. Her talents have been put to use in some features of the remodeled store, including a design center and a demonstration kitchen called "Culinary Corner." Besides showing shoppers how to use some of the small appliances and housewares the store sells, the Havliceks hope to have local chefs teach there.
"Our lawn and garden (section) is what will blow people away. That will be a big surprise," Havlicek said.
And the store will offer a handyman service, in addition to the usual sharpening and screen-repair services. It will sell Craftsman and Stihl tools.
But not everything is new. Havlicek is bringing back a popular feature, the ability to get propane tanks refilled rather than exchanged. And he has hired some of the previous store's employees.
And, thanks to his college-age daughter, the popcorn machine is coming back. Havlicek said she and her friends said that was the only reason they would accompany their parents to the store when they were kids. He's added a small lounge area where people can enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, and posted a television where guys stocking up on supplies for their "honey-do" list can catch the score of a football game.
He plans a grand opening celebration April 13 and 14.
"This is just really fun," Havlicek said.