Mark Welna of Welna Hardware in south Minneapolis and Robbinsdale has no problem staying in shape these days.
“I got 16,000 steps in at work yesterday,” Welna quipped last week.
Welna, 60, an amiable, third-generation employee-owner, and his staff of nine greet customers at the front door and take an order. Then they go find the shovel or some disinfectant or nuts and bolts. Sometimes, it takes a second try. Then, they hand it over and book a sale.
It’s easier than trying to keep 6 feet of distance among employees and customers.
“They put their list on the counter and we get it,” he said. “Our staff is glad we are here to help and not sitting at home.
“Usually the stores are thriving by spring. But we’re in survival mode. We have sold more paint than any spring. We’re finding disinfectants and cleaners in our warehouse. We’re pulling in that. But we’re not as busy as normal. And downtown Robbinsdale is devastated. The restaurants have laid off all kinds of people.”
This is the spring of our global coronavirus and Main Street discontent.
Hardware stores are “essential” businesses amid a commercial shutdown. Homeowners, contractors and repair people need to fix things and paint during downtimes.
But the stores are not teeming with shoppers amid huge layoffs and an instant economic recession.
Owner Darryl Weivoda of North End Hardware declined to lay off any of his nine employees.
“It’s nice to have people come in and tell us that they are glad to find us open,” said Weivoda, who has worked at or owned North End at Penn and Lowry avenues in north Minneapolis since 1979. “We help them keep a 6-foot distance. We ask what they need and tell them to walk over two aisles, take a left and they’ll see the screws.”
Spring is usually the busiest and most profitable business in the hardware trade.
“Our sales in March were down 25 percent,” said Weivoda, whose store is a mile and a half from Welna’s. “In the hardware industry, December, January and February … you lose some money. You make your money in March, April, May and June. Business drops off in July or August when people are gone or it’s too hot to do anything. And then we’re busy until November. And if it doesn’t snow, we’re slow in the winter.
“If March is good, people start to get the mower tuned up, fix windows, buy outdoor tools and grass seed.
“The weather was pretty good in March. It should have been a banner month. I’m planning for the next 60 days to be the toughest couple of months we’ve ever had. At least in 41 years.”
Welna, 60, and Weivoda, 63, are calm, collaborative types. They share inventory when supplies run low, and they support neighborhood causes and charities. They have kept on the employees.
It’s a perplexing time. Welna’s 92-year-old mom, Pat Welna, who likes to visit the store daily, is off a bit.
“My mom has never been through anything like this in her life,” Mark Welna said. “She keeps repeating that to me. I just tell her that we all have to reinvent and try and do things a different way.”
Mark and Cathy Welna, who run the Robbinsdale store with a daughter, Molly, last week sent Pat Welna to stay temporarily with Mark’s sister in Baldwin, Wis.
Welna’s brother Jim, the owner of a Welna Hardware in the Seward neighborhood, shut down his small store for a few weeks. The sign directs customers to the larger Welna store on Bloomington Avenue.
Welna said he’s investigating SBA-guaranteed disaster loans and a new SBA no-interest loan program to cover employee wages for a couple of months and certain other expenses. It’s the centerpiece of a $350 billion federal effort to keep workers on the job and owners solvent. Many of those loans are designed to be forgivable.
Weivoda is working through his bank in Robbinsdale on an SBA loan, he said. “I’m hoping to qualify for something that will help us survive.”