When the ownership of Sherwin Ace Hardware in Arlington Heights -- located at Campbell Street and Wilke Road -- changed hands in January, former owner Bob Ward of Arlington Heights didn't have to look far for a buyer.
Ward sold the store -- which he has run for more than 25 years -- to the first stock boy he hired in 1988: Matt Hanson. He was a 15-year-old sophomore at Rolling Meadows High School at the time, and a self-described "fix-it guy."
"I grew up in the neighborhood," Hanson says. "I'm the type of kid who took apart my toys, just to see how they worked."
When he became old enough to work, his local hardware store was the first place he applied.
"I love this place," Hanson says. "It's the only store I'd ever own."
He means it.
Hanson put in hours at the shop through high school, and when he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, he returned every weekend to work. He continued coming in on weekends for the first few years after he obtained his mechanical engineering degree.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, Ward had a similar background. As a teen going to Arlington High School, he worked part time for Bowen Ace Hardware in Arlington Heights, another family-owned store, and he returned after college.
When the chance to buy his own store opened up across town, Ward says he took it, though it was a different store back then.
"There was very little inventory on the shelves," Ward says, "and I think during our first few days, we sold maybe $100."
Ward inherited two employees when he bought the store, but Hanson was his first true hire, he says.
Together, they worked to clean and paint the inside of the store, before setting out to stock the shelves with more items and build relationships with local neighbors.
"It's always been a homeowner-based store," Ward says. "We stock things for local tradesmen, but we're not trying to be their supplier. We're geared toward the homeowner."
If the sale sounds like it was a no-brainer, it had to be approved by other Ace Hardware owners. The company, based in Oakbrook, is a cooperative, run by its dealer-owners, who are shareholders in the company.
"They wanted to make sure it was the right fit," Hanson says. "This is a successful store and they want it to thrive."
Ward adds that the history of the store in the neighborhood, also played a role in the change in ownership.
"There's been a hardware store here for 60 years," Ward added, "and Ace wanted to continue that."
Hanson says he hasn't changed much. He has kept the name, Sherwin, which is Ward's mother's maiden name, because of its name recognition in the community, and he kept its emphasis on service.
"We had 10 employees working here on Saturday," Hanson says. "You're not supposed to be able to get three-quarters of the way into the store without being helped."
Don't be surprised if Ward is one of those sales people. He still comes into the store twice a week or so, to ease the transition.
"That's what I always enjoyed the most," Ward says, "helping customers."
Since the sale, Ward says he has found more time for leisure activities, like skiing, playing golf and travel. Just last week, he and his wife, Ruth, visited Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home built over a waterfall near Pittsburgh.
Before stepping away from ownership, he says, he never would have found the time for a trip like that.
"It's cool; Matt is very capable," Ward said of the sale. "It's something he's always wanted to do."