A Return to Tried and True
Ace Hardware in Aurora Written Profile and Photos by Karen Ollis
Driving into the Barrington Commons shopping center in Aurora is similar to many in transitional brick and mortar retail strips. It is made up of active occupancy and empty store fronts, the largest an abandoned Cinemark recognizable by the strains on the building’s exterior left by the once present signage. Upon turning the corner in the parking lot there is glimpse of new life, a fresh face in the Ace Hardware Store now anchoring this retail area.
What brought me there was curiosity. A notice in my LinkedIn feed that a connection, Jason Wallenstein was opening an Ace Hardware store in Aurora Ohio. It was curious to me because I had met Jason through his well established family owned art framing shop, Frameworks, in Bedford Ohio. What was his motivation to open an Ace? Had Frameworks been negatively impacted by the pandemic?
Jason had shared with me a few years prior that Frameworks, although having full time employees, was only a part time endeavor for himself. Jason also worked full time for 9 years at Lowes. Fast forward from when we first met, he is now wearing a bright red shirt adored with the Ace logo while greeting me in his new store.
When I asked Jason why Ace, he tells me, “Frameworks continues to do well and even better during the pandemic but my interest was peeked when I had been offered a partnership in an Ace Store, but that first opportunity fell through.“
Ace is not a franchise but a co-op venture, these stores are independently owned and operated by those who buy into the co-op. When Jason made a change in who he was partnering with, he took the plunge with this store in Aurora. Jason is a family man who is the industrious type. His longer term goal is to have another Ace Store in 3 to 5 years.
While Jason surveys the neatly stocked shelves he shares, “Having a soft open for the Aurora store in February of 2022, made for a slow start as the weather didn’t break until well into April.”
Customers coming to this Ace for the first time are finding knowledgeable and service oriented sales people that provide the neighborhood hardware store experience absent at big box stores. Once an Ace customer, most remark they do not want to return to the less intimate chain stores. Jason confides, “Those nine years at Lowes really prepared me for this hardware retail experience, I understand the products and the customers.”
As well there is no doubt his long standing experience in customer service delivering high quality framing products also plays a significant role in Jason’s business success knowledge.
A humble and direct man, Jason continues, “Some Ace owners are more business oriented than based in hardware knowledge so they may find themselves initially wondering what they have gotten themselves into.” He continues, “For me it was an easy transition despite the 15-16 month process of finding the space for the store, renovating it and stocking it with the brand name products all under one roof.”
When I asked Jason what his favorite products are he points, “I really like the EGO mowers, these are battery operated mowers that customers are really responding positively to.”
There are other brand name mowers for those in the market for the more traditional. This 10,000 sq ft store houses all sorts of products carrying brand names such as Craftsman, STIHL, Yeti and all things hardware including the Ace brand of goods along with paints such as Benjamin Moore to name one of four brands.
Jason continues, “Another great selection of products I like are the grills and what better activity with family is grilling and enjoying a meal together especially in the summer months.”
Displayed well in easily accessible floor space there are top brands in grills, Big Green Egg, Traeger, and Weber. Ace has the top of the line Weber grills not available elsewhere. It is a concise offering not diluted by lesser quality product. To have this selection in one retail setting might be a griller’s paradise.
Besides being located near a well trafficked grocery store, customers are learning about the Ace in Aurora through co-op social media and other promotional efforts. Jason set up a dedicated Facebook page for the store so customers can follow for alerts on specials. Facebook.com/acehardwareofaurora Jason while rooted in years of traditional family business experience is well versed in modern marketing, a rare but effective combination.
When asked what if any problems he has encountered with opening the new store, Jason admits, “There have been some supply chain issues however, we call and check to make sure items are available before placing customer orders.”
The Aurora store is manned by employees from the Aurora area. Jason shares, “Staffing became tight with the death of one employee and the leave of absence of another due to surgery.”
To help bridge the gap Jason’s wife, Shana, has been stepping in to cover a few hours while juggling her full time grant writing career. Shana now loves being at the store and interacting with customers.
As Jason and I are conversing his 8 year old son Jack comes zipping by to help a customer with having keys made, something Jack is very keen on doing. This Ace is made the Place by the family commitment to servicing customers in all things quality hardware. It’s the kind of place they will learn your name and that you can depend on. That’s the kind of approach to retail one remembers from childhood when errands with Dad included trips to the neighborhood hardware store. This place is about family.
Ace Hardware Aurora 330-286-6388
55 Barrington Town Square Drive, Aurora, OH 44202.