Tevlin: Owner of corner hardware store parts with only job he's known

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2012 - 10:49 PM

Everything must go.

The rubber gaskets, the barbecue tongs, the pet toys, the toilet in the middle of the basement. The copper tubing, the tenpenny nails, the hex-head bolts and the old-fashioned Christmas lights. Even the snowblowers that sit incongruously in the August sun outside Bayers Do It Best Hardware in Linden Hills have to go.

"Like selling refrigerators to the Eskimos," said owner Bob Bayers.

These are the last, sad days for Bayers and the only job he's ever known, a place he's worked at and loved since he was 16, a business that has been on the corner of 43rd and Upton for 89 years.

This Saturday there will be a "retirement party" for Bayers, with cake and ice cream and lemonade, even though he's not really retiring so much as looking for another job.

A proclamation honoring Bayers for his work from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is already in the mail, but Tuesday Bayers didn't seem to be much in the mood for a party.

"I didn't want it to end this way," he said. "I saw myself going out like my dad did, coming in once in a while to repair screens or help out."

Instead, Bayers has been forced out of business, first by a poor economy, then a lousy winter for selling snow equipment and finally, the nail in the coffin: a shiny new Settergren Ace Hardware store a few feet from his back door.

Just capitalism at work. Market forces. The guy with the bigger store and better plan wins and we are all better off for it. He's heard all that before and intellectually, he gets it.

Emotionally, however, well, that's a different story.

Bayers pulled out an advertisement from the old Harriet Theatre, which used to occupy the Bayers building. The featured movie was "Over the Cliffs." He didn't smile.

Bayers' great-uncle first bought the store way back when. His father, Max, became a partner in the 1940s and they taught Bayers everything they knew. He even went to "hardware school" at a tech college to refine his business and handyman skills.

The Bayerses lived in the neighborhood, and walked past the shop every Sunday to church. He was baptized just up the hill, in 1952.

"The memories?" Bayers began, as though he had to dig back for something positive for the upcoming party. "Favorite memory was coming in the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- that's when Toyland opened. Dad gave us a preview of all the new toys."

"Coming down on New Year's Day," said Bayers. "We'd watch the Rose Bowl Parade on our color TVs because we couldn't afford to have one at home."

Bayers said he tried to negotiate a deal or a job with the new hardware store's owner, Mark Settergren, but it didn't work out.

"They said, 'We will continue the interview process in good faith,'" said Bayers. "I'm not happy at all."

A few steps away at Settergren's, the expansive store was neatly arranged and brightly lit. A friendly woman welcomed customers and a big dog lay near the cash register.

Settergren's story is a lot like Bayers.' He's the fourth generation to run his stores, and his kids will be the fifth. Settergren said Bayers' demise was inevitable.

"We outbid two other hardware stores," he said. "We have customers who live in Linden Hills and we couldn't afford to lose them to another store. I know it's sad. Our families have known each other for 50 years. We wish him well in retirement."

Back at Bayers, the man who says hardware "is in my DNA" was contemplating his future after the store closes, either at the end of August or when the merchandise is all gone. He owns the building with his ex-wife, but they haven't decided if they'll sell or lease it out.

Meanwhile, he needs a job.

"I perceive I have some value to a hardware store, given my background," he said. "Good luck on the retirement, I guess."

Right now, Bayer has merchandise to move, so the "hardware man on the corner" gave one last pitch.

"People are bound to get a great deal here now," he said, "so they should come on down."

Everything must go.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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