It was once a staple of Main Street, USA — the downtown mom-and-pop hardware store. If you needed a widget, didn’t know what it was called or what it even looked like, the seasoned employees knew instantly what you were describing and what bin it was hiding in. While that part of Americana has started to fade away into memories in recent years, the third-generation, family-owned Hackney Ace Hardware in downtown Dexter is still alive and well, thanks to its unique inventory, dedicated staff and loyal customers.
Husband and wife Dan and Abby O’Haver have owned the hardware store for almost 20 years. In 1996, Dan purchased it from his parents, Tom and Christine O’Haver, who had purchased it from Christine’s father in 1972. Dan is the third generation of his family to own the business, which has been operating in the same location since the early 1940s. The hardware store legacy in Dan’s family actually goes back four family generations to 1895, when his great-grandfather, T. Henry Howlett, started a hardware store in Gregory, Michigan.
Dan said he enjoys being able to carry on the torch of owning the family business. He has seen generations grow up before his eyes ever since he started working at the store when he was just a kid.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s really great being rooted in the community,” Dan said in an interview with We Love Dexter staff Jan. 19. “You get a chance to see people all the time as they grow from different stages in life. It’s kind of fun to see that.”
While many full-service, small-town hardware stores have shut their doors over the years with the growing popularity of big box home improvement chains, Hackney Ace Hardware has managed to buck the trend.
“These hardware stores that are in downtowns like this — there’s not that many of them left,” Dan said. “What’s great about this one, is that it’s in a great community where everyone supports it, and it’s doing really well. It’s always done well.”
Dan said the business has been successful in selling smaller accessories and parts people tend to forget when purchasing larger items at big box stores. Instead of returning to the same store, they often come to Hackney Ace Hardware right in town to pick up small parts for those infamous 10 minute projects that turn into a weekend’s worth of work.
“I love our location — it’s convenient and it’s very well supported in the community,” Dan said. “Even when Lowe’s opened up, our customers continued to shop with us.”
Dan said his customers’ loyalty to the store for all these years has been invaluable.
“They continue to support the business, and we continue to support them with a great staff and great products,” Dan said. “So, it works out really well and we appreciate all of our customers for doing that. We have some longtime customers who really support us.”
The store’s dedicated staff of around 20 employees makes customers feel welcome and wanting to return again and again. Abby said many of their customers actually prefer to shop at the family-owned business, rather than a more impersonal big box store selling lower-quality inventory. Dan estimates Hackney Ace Hardware has about five times more employees per square foot than the average big box store.
“We just hear over and over from customers how knowledgeable, helpful and how nice to work with our staff is,” Abby said. “The big boxes are here, they’re part of our life, but there’s actually been a backlash against them. We’ve got a lot of customers who are just tired of going to those places. (The big box stores) have no soul; they have no spirit. (Our customers) are willing to just come and find a parking spot and walk a little ways to come to our store where you can actually talk to people and have people care about what they’re selling you.”
David Kummet, a resident of Ypsilanti and Hackney Ace Hardware customer, said the running joke in his office is that if someone is looking for a random item, they should go to Hackney Ace Hardware because they are sure to have it. Kummet and his coworkers have found items they were seeking at the hardware store ranging from grapefruit spoons to blank VHS tapes.
The wooden floors, multistory structure, pressed-tin ceilings and glass soda pop bottles also bring back memories for customers of a simpler time. A fully functioning vintage freight elevator, with safety gates that look like something outfitted on the R.M.S Titanic, also adds to the charm of the store.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got customers who appreciate the convenience and the character of old downtown shopping, and we’ve been fortunate that’s what keeps us going, plus the hard work of the staff’s part and our part,” Abby said. “It’s a fun business.”
The building itself has also carried on its own heritage of selling hardware for what is believed to be for well over a century.
“We really think that since the building was built in the 1860s or 1870s, that there has been a hardware store in this location,” Dan said.
Part of the building also has another storied past.
“On the third floor where we have storage, it used to be a music hall,” Dan said. “Around the turn of the century, I think it was popular to have these music halls on the third stories of these downtown buildings where traveling bands would come in and play.”
At one time, bands used to play outside on a balcony that is now long-gone. A wooden post supporting the ceiling in the old music hall space contains signatures dating back to the 1870s.
“The employees of the hardware store have signed that post with their name and the date ever since,” Dan said.
From the outside, Hackney Ace Hardware doesn’t look particularly large, but looks can be deceiving. The inside of the 8,000 square foot store carries approximately 18,000 items on its shelves. The first floor contains a paint section and other basic hardware. The store also provides services including glass, pipe and acrylic sheet cutting, glass and screen repair, blade sharpening and in-house lock service.
Mysterious orange footprints on the first floor lead to the basement, but you’ll just have to visit yourself to see who greets you at the end — I won’t reveal all of the store’s secrets. The basement section also holds plumbing supplies, fasteners and other hardware.
The O’Havers recently acquired an additional 600 square feet in the store when they reconfigured the old Christine’s gift shop next door back into the hardware store. Abby carefully researches and stocks high quality, yet affordable items in the new housewares space that are made locally, in Michigan or in the USA.
Dan said the new space has been very popular with customers, who mill about both the hardware sections and the new housewares space.
“We tried to be really selective with what we’re putting into the new space and new housewares section and just really focus on useful, thoughtfully chosen and well-made products that you just can’t find at the big boxes necessarily,” Abby said. “So, it’s a space to kind of collect just some high quality, thoughtfully chosen items that we’re proud to carry, we use ourselves and would buy as gifts for our friends … and some things that we think are just plain cool that you just can’t find everywhere.”
Dan said owning a business has its ups and downs, but overall it is a rewarding experience.
“I encourage anyone who’s thinking about doing their own business to give it a shot,” Dan said.
Hackney Ace Hardware isn’t the only business the O’Havers run. They also own Milan Ace Hardware at 513 W. Main St. in Milan.
Dan formed an additional company called Mango Report nine years ago, which analyzes inventory and generates reports at 4,000 Ace Hardware stores to improve inventory accuracy. According to the Mango Report website, the name came from a memory of when Dan was about 9 years old working in the hardware store. His grandfather told him to “go count the mangoes” in the store — meaning the store’s inventory.
Hackney Ace Hardware is open seven days a week. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. The store is located at 8105 Main St. in Dexter and can be reached at (734) 426-4009.