Libertyville hardware store owner says it's time to retire
While hard to describe, the distinct amalgamation of scents -- rubber, vinyl, cleaning products, charcoal, salt -- is among the unique features that define a neighborhood hardware store.
So it is at Libertyville True Value hardware on Milwaukee Avenue near Rockland Road. The store has been run by the LeJeune family since 1967, but that tradition could come to an end with the pending retirement of the last family member on full-time duty.
Certainly that "hardware store smell" isn't the main draw but an indicator one is entering a local business where attention to detail, personal service and maybe a story or two will be part of the experience.
"They know we're knowledgeable here. After 40 years, I'm getting the hang of it," joked Ed LeJeune, who began stocking shelves and ringing up customers while a student at Carmel Catholic High School and never left.
"After awhile, my dad's going golfing all the time and my brother and I are running it," LeJeune said. "It was supposed to be his retirement plan."
After their father's death in 1975, the brothers took over for good. But with the retirement of his brother, Lee, last summer, LeJeune has been minding the store on his own seven days a week and is looking to call it a career.
"We were a team. He had that heart attack (and) you think things are going to go on forever. It was time -- we need to do something here."
On a whim, he has listed the full-service business for sale on eBay and Craigslist. Despite a difficult economy, sales have held their own, LeJeune said, and he is asking $495,000. That does not include the real estate, which is negotiable.
He acknowledges business is off somewhat, but the business "makes money even with the economy as bad as it is, it still works. You can make a living," he said.
He has no time frame at this point.
"I hate to liquidate it. It's been here so long and people like it. It would be a sad thing to do. We'll see how it plays out."
LeJeune describes the business as a convenience store of everyday products frequented by customers who need something quick and don't have the time or inclination to navigate the big-box home improvement behemoths.
"People like that," LeJeune said. "They don't want to be messing around. They don't have time."
It's a place where key chains and flashlights hang from a pegboard near the key-making machine behind the checkout counter and talk radio is always playing. It's where Jim Burke can pick up some bird seed and pay LeJeune the 50 cents his son owed from a previous visit.
"This has always been my favorite hardware store," Burke said. "They actually know what they're doing here."
At about 5,000 square feet, Libertyville True Value is a fraction of the size of the big guys but contains thousands of items that customers like Jerry Hall can quickly select and be on their way.
On Friday, Hall, of Libertyville, a landscape architect who comes in about three or four times a week, in short order was directed by LeJeune to some brass polish, two glass "chimneys" and wicks for oil lamps.
"Stuff that's quick and easy and to chat with the local guys," Hall said of his affinity for the store. "I tend to be a little homey. I think that's why people like this store."
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