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Every few minutes Thursday afternoon, the tinkling bell on the front door of Mills Hardware in Perrysburg announced a new customer coming to the store that has been a presence in the historic downtown area for 85 years.
Some folks had not even noticed the banner in the window that announced Mills was closing for good this year.
"Oh, no!" said one woman, who had purchased a $2 plumbing part.
Owner Bruce Brigode, 51, of Perrysburg, who was hired as an employee in 1977 and then partnered in the business with two previous owners, said it was time for him to retire.
"We're not going out of business; we're closing, because we can," he said.
Mr. Brigode said he had no timetable for closing but that it would come this year. He said he was contacting contractors who may be interested in purchasing entire sections of the store's inventory.
He will remain as owner of the historic 1830s-era building on the northwest corner of Louisiana Avenue and Second Street, which has three residential apartments on the second story.
He said he plans to separate the ground level into two spaces and find other businesses as tenants, once he liquidates his inventory.
Employees were still stocking shelves Thursday and placing orders for things like 10-gallon aluminum lidded cans.
"It's still a running hardware," Mr. Brigode said.
Christopher Jones, a Perrysburg carpenter, was in the back looking for a piece of wood trim. He grew up in the city and moved back about three years ago.
"This is from my childhood," he said of the store.
Mr. Jones said he did a lot of maintenance work on older homes in Perrysburg and that it was convenient to come to the local hardware store where he knew where things were and the staff would help him with whatever he needed.
"It sucks," he said of the closing.
Other locally owned hardware stores have folded in recent years, partly as a result of the struggling general economy but particularly when the housing crisis hit.
"If your house is in foreclosure or is underwater, you're not going to even buy a gallon of paint to fix it up," Laura Fleeger-Koening said in February, 2012, when her family's hardware business was closing its third and last Toledo-area store. Fleeger's Pro Hardward had closed its other locations in 1998 and 2009.
The national chain stores, such as Lowe's and Home Depot, also have hurt small, independent hardware stores across the country, typically being able to beat the local stores on price and variety of items.
Mills Hardware was founded in 1928 a block away on Louisiana, being moved to its current location under Robert Mills' ownership in 1964.
Mr. Brigode said Mills Hardware was not trying to compete with big retail outlets like Home Depot or Lowe's, which came to the Perrysburg area within the past two decades with the development of the Route 20 corridor east of I-75.
The appeal of a local hardware store, he said, is that customers could get in and out quickly, that the place was small enough that an employee would be right there to help someone, and that shelves had both common supplies and out-of-the-ordinary items.
"It's getting harder and harder to find the oddball stuff that we carry," he said, naming radiator keys, mattress needles, and non-standard light bulbs.
Contact Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer at 419-356-8786, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RebeccaConklinK.41.55939 -83.6296
Perrysburg store closing "because we can," owner says.