100 years of hardware

Published 4:01 am Friday, April 12, 2013

—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.

Family continues to pass down store through generations

Fred Ulven flipped through the pages in his binder and talked about the history of the hardware store he has owned for more than 40 years. The story goes back much further, though.

“This belonged to C.A. Anderson,” he said, paging through old news articles and black and white photos.

Fred’s grandfather, also Fred, took over the building nearly 100 years ago, in late 1913. A horseshoe he found in the mud still hangs as a timepiece above the backdoor. Hundred-year-old promissory notes for $1,000 and $1,500, perhaps the sale of the building, are yet another piece of the collection.

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The building looked much different back then, as Fred pointed at the crack in the floor where a wall once stood. A house used to be attached.

Fred remembers when he was a toddler, his grandfather taught him the basics, such as how to thread nuts on bolts — his earliest hardware store experiences. Every bolt needs a nut, Fred’s grandfather believed. After years of working and growing up in the store, Fred’s father, Stan, took over for a short while. Then it was Fred’s turn. He has run the show since 1972.

“When I found out they were going to close it, I decided to come back and give it a shot,” Fred said.

He made the right choice. Small-town hardware stores may be a thing of the past, but somehow Ulven’s Hardware in Rose Creek continues to defy time.

“You don’t see too many small-town hardware stores anymore,” Fred admitted.

Paint, motor oil, nuts and bolts, pliers, screw drivers and wrenches fill the storefront like any other hardware shop. By the smell alone, anyone can tell it’s a hardware store. For 45 years, it has been a dealer of Stihl chainsaws. A shelf full of different sizes and models lines the wall.

But that’s only half of it. The focus isn’t just on selling tools and parts anymore. It’s about fixing things.

“The main thing for us is power equipment and the service we provide,” Fred said as he stood in the back half of the building, which is essentially a repair shop. There, Fred and his son, Jamey, sharpen saws, service snowmobiles, fix small engines and do anything within their abilities.

“I just had to change it to that,” Fred added. “Sales was just not going to do it.”

That approach has worked well for locals and the Ulvens. Both Fred and Jamey said repair work is one of their favorite aspects of the business. Other than that, they enjoy the customers, who over an hour filtered in and out of the store. One needed repairs. Another simply had a question. One was new, but already well known.

“He’s a new customer, but he’s a good one,” Jamey said as the man walked in the door.

Many of the customers are like Fred; they’ve lived in the area for decades. They don’t work at the hardware store, but they spend inordinate amounts of time inside it.

“There’s usually a pretty good crew by the end of the day that comes around,” Fred said.

Many of those who frequent the shop are third- and fourth-generation customers. It’s the same store, familiar faces and the same family behind the counter. Generations of Ulvens continue to punch the clock.

Since 1991, Jamey has been working at the store, and will likely take over when Fred is done. Like his dad, Jamey has boyhood memories about growing up in the store: his great-grandfather watching the traffic through the window, or chasing Jamey around the store with his false teeth.

Perhaps Jamey’s 2-year-old son, Mason, will be a fifth-generation Ulven to learn the ropes. It isn’t taking him long to learn the inventory.

“He goes right for the suckers under the desk,” Jamey joked.


Fred Ulven

Age: 63

Town: Rose Creek

Fun fact: Enjoys snowmobiles, restores and collects old and new cars; has a 1948 Chevy Coupe and 2005 Chevy SSR


Jamey Ulven

Age: 39

Town: Rose Creek

Fun fact: Likes to golf, snowmobile and enjoys classic cars; has a 1977 Camaro