Hard times for hardware
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent March 22, 2013 5:18PM
Chuck McBain, of Lowell, inventories plumbing parts for liquidation with Carol Comstock at Midtown Hardware in Lowell, Ind. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Another chapter is coming to an end in Lowell’s storied historic downtown shopping district with the closure of Midtown Hardware.
Owner Chuck McBain is winding down an everything-must-go liquidation sale aimed at moving all the merchandise before he must hand over the keys April 1 after losing the building at 306 E. Commercial Ave. in a divorce settlement.
“I thought it would be my retirement,” McBain said.
McBain bought the hardware business 16 years ago as an opportunity to complement his tree-service business. He had hoped to be able one day to move away from the physically demanding tree service and settle into the hardware business for his retirement.
But at the end of the month he will close its doors, and another of the town’s historic buildings will sit empty.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia here,” McBain said.
While the building, constructed in 1923, has operated as a hardware store continuously for more than 50 years, it has a colorful history of its own. The building was home to the town’s first movie house, the Ritz Theatre.
The slant of the floor for the seats can still be detected in the basement, while the projector room has been converted to office space. After the Ritz closed it became a furniture store and then a hardware store.
Many residents have a connection to the building.
“There are so many people who have been coming in, old gentlemen, who say ‘I worked here,’ ” McBain said.
The closure is another blow to the downtown business district, which continues to struggle to keep storefronts open. A handful of businesses are left anchoring the strip, including Sickenger’s Jewelry, which opened in 1928, a fitness center, restaurants and a train store. The closure will bring the vacant storefronts to 14.
Diane Boylan, who headed the now defunct Lowell Main Street Association, said residents need to think “Lowell first” when making their purchases if they expect the town to have a vibrant business community.
She said it is sad to see another downtown business close, even if it’s not necessarily for economic reasons.
“I’ve always said shop Lowell first. No matter what you tell people, they still kind of gravitate to Merrillville,” she said. Until that changes, it will be difficult to grow a strong retail base.
McBain agreed that he would like to see more residents shop locally. He said it was not uncommon for someone to come in for small items, like hand tools and hardware, but would head to the big-box retailers for more major purchases like snowblowers and lawnmowers, which made it difficult to be successful.
He still believes the historic downtown could be a good place to have a business, and he is weighing his options.
“Who knows what the future holds … I love the town and the people,” McBain said.