Ace Hardware Opens at 297 South Main Street

Elizabeth Dobbins, Staff Writer

When Walmart opened on the outskirts of Oberlin in 2006, Ben Franklin saw a drop in business, a drop some fear Watson Hardware will also experience in wake of the recent arrival of Ace Hardware on 297 South Main Street.

City Manager Eric Norenberg says there are no city codes aimed at deterring chains. Vice President of City Council Sharon Soucy explains that, outside adult entertainment businesses and zoning concerns, the city has little control over what businesses open.

“The fundamental situation is that piece of property [Ace is on] is not owned by the city it’s owned by a private developer and you cannot interfere with very few exceptions…” said Soucy. “A city cannot really inhibit that sort of private development.”

Penny Von Alt, manager of the new Ace Hardware, which opened its doors Aug. 7, contends that the concern for Watson, the downtown hardware store established in 1895, is unwarranted.

“I think we’re a good addition,” said Von Alt. “We’re not here to put anyone out of business. We’re here to share our business. We’re here to learn whatever we can and work with our neighboring businesses.”

Soucy explains that City Council has been working with Ace to steer them away from direct competition with Watson and towards providing goods that have been previously unavailable for sale in Oberlin.

“We can’t say we don’t want an Ace Hardware here to compete with the store that we love so what we try to do is through the planning commission meet with a new business coming in and encourage them not to compete,” said Soucy. “And we did that with Ace Hardware and encouraged them to offer… [things] that our Watson Hardware doesn’t offer. So to an extent I think they are trying to fill a niche that isn’t being filled. But, again, we can’t control that.”

City Council employed a similar tactic when the East College Street development, which now houses Magpie Pizza and Cow Haus Creamery, opened by encouraging the development not to rent space to businesses that would directly compete with preexisting local establishments. Soucy attributes the 2012 closing of Yesterday’s Ice Cream Shoppe to the competition Cow Haus provided.

“It’s business competition and the capitalist system and that’s what happens,” said Soucy.

Norenberg holds a more optimistic outlook and points to Ace’s 15 new employees and brand recognition as a positive for the Oberlin community.

“When you think about Ace… they have a national brand name but they are also locally owned and operated, they employ local residents.” said Norenberg.

This Ace location is owned by the Buehler family, a family based out of Wooster, Ohio and known for their chain of southern Ohio grocery stores.

“Some of our local residents found job opportunities [at Ace], provides more tax revenue for the city. We benefit from that standpoint to both residents and the city,” said Norenberg.“I suspect that Ace will draw from a wider area because of its advertising and its brand recognition and maybe it will attract customers from outside the Oberlin area that may not be aware that Watsons is here and is existing.” Norenberg continued. “So it may be that more dollars will come into the Oberlin economy.”

Jerry Anderson, who has owned and operated Watson for the past five years, feels differently and is concerned about the community.

“I’m an independent that’s locally owned and I feel that we’ll support the needs of the community probably better than a corporation will,” said Anderson.

Ben Franklin owner Krista Long said, “They do have a lot of support from the community so that will be helpful, but it’s bound to have an effect.”