Moorhead Ace Hardware builds on 40 years of experience

MOORHEAD-Ace Hardware is celebrating four decades as a family-owned business in Moorhead.The store was born in April 1978 when two men working in the Coast to Coast chain of stores decided to buy a business of their own.Dick Popp was in Minneapol...
The Ace Hardware store in Moorhead is a family operation that has been run for four decades by the families of Dick Popp, left, and his late partner, Dennis Peterson, whose wife, Lorene, is seen here with daughter, Mandy Peterson, who now runs the store. Dave Olson/The Forum

MOORHEAD-Ace Hardware is celebrating four decades as a family-owned business in Moorhead.

The store was born in April 1978 when two men working in the Coast to Coast chain of stores decided to buy a business of their own.

Dick Popp was in Minneapolis and Dennis Peterson was living in Brookings, S.D., at the time.

The business they purchased was a Coast to Coast in the Holiday Mall on Eighth Street south in Moorhead.

The store moved to its current location at 20 6th St. S. in 1990.

Dennis Peterson died in 2010.

Popp still stops by the store every day, but Peterson's daughter, Mandy, now runs the business.

And that's fine by Popp, who credits Peterson with successfully navigating the business through changes like the rise of the internet and the appearance of bix box stores.

For Peterson, taking over the store was part of a progression of duties that started at a very young age.

"I used to ring up people when I was 5. It was my dad's way of teaching me math," Peterson said.

Popp said the experience he and Dennis Peterson gained by working in the Coast to Coast chain was helpful in setting up their own business, but they had to overcome challenges nonetheless.

Not the least among them were the economic times and double-digit interest rates when it came to borrowing money to start the business, said Lorene Peterson, Dennis Peterson's widow.

"It's a big financial commitment, but we were newlyweds," she said. "For us, it was like: what's the worst that could happen, you could lose everything. Well, we didn't have much," Peterson added.

The store's customer base is a loyal one, according to Mandy Peterson, who said someone in the store just the other day mentioned they used to shop at the Holiday Mall store.

But, a younger demographic has found them, too.

"I definitely see a new generation coming into the store," Mandy Peterson said.

The secret to attracting and keeping those customers?

The answer from Popp and the Petersons is the same: customer service.

Also, a smaller footprint makes for quicker stops and an easier time finding what someone needs, according to Lorene Peterson.

"I do think the convenience is such a big thing," she said. "If you just need a couple of little parts to finish your project, to drive out to a big box (store) and park far away and then have to come in to find somebody to help you, that's usually difficult.

"They can be in and out real fast here," she added.

And that's where the staff enters the picture, including long-time employees like Sarah Volness, who has been with Ace since 2003, and Mike Jacobson, a veteran of 37 years with the Moorhead store.

Jacobson said reasons he stuck around so long include having great people to work for and with and getting to know customers.

He said when he started working in the store he was 19 and kind of a quiet guy.

"Now they wish I'd shut up," Jacobson said.

Popp said in the four decades they've been in Moorhead they've seen a lot of change in the retail world.

"When we first came here, I think there were five hardware stores in Moorhead," Popp said.

"Through the years and the changes with the big boxes coming in we've had to change our model, not to necessarily compete with them, but to keep our local hardware store image," Popp added.

Over time, the store stopped selling things like bikes and sporting goods and focused more on things like plumbing wares and paint.

"We sell a lot of paint," Popp said.