Koontz Hardware celebrating 60 years

BREMEN — As the name on the building indicates, Koontz Hardware always has been a family operation. In two weeks, the family will celebrate 60 years in business downtown.
“It has been our livelihood for all our lives, for me ever since I graduated high school in 1960,” co-owner Kent Koontz said. “Our mom and dad started it and I’ve worked here, my daughters work here, my cousin Bob works here and I had another cousin and my brother work here. We’ve enjoyed it, especially all the people.”
Koontz Hardware will hold its 60th anniversary sale Dec. 3-4. Everything in the store will be 25 percent off and in upwards of 30 door prizes will be up for grabs.
Over six decades, Koontz’s clientele has enjoyed the same family atmosphere when they walk in the door.
“Mostly our customers are appreciative when they come in because we help them,” Koontz said. “This is still a service store.”
The store was opened Dec. 7, 1950 by Rolland and Juanita Koontz.
“They worked here for years and never took a wage out of it, just their expenses to live and to get it going,” Koontz said.
Sons Douglas and Kent jumped into the business in 1954 and ‘60 respectively. The business has changed a lot since then.
“Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s we sold a lot of toys,” Koontz said. “Our upstairs was solid toys, and a lot of our customers now remember going up there and getting toys when they were kids. Now that’s gone here and everywhere because of Toys R Us, Walmart and big stores like that.”
The business has also seen change in its customer base.
“We’ve been here so long that some of our older customers are in the nursing home or cemetery,” Koontz said. “A lot of people aren’t doing as much as they used to when it comes to remodeling, and the younger ones don’t have as much money to spend as they used to.”
Koontz said there were once five hardware stores locally, but now it’s down to Koontz and Ace Hardware. Competition with out-of-town big-box retailers is difficult, as is the economic downturn’s impact.
“It is tough, and another small hardware store just closed up in South Bend last week,” Koontz said. “We used to have around 13 contractors here, and now we’re down around half that many. It’s harder than it used to be.”
Because the elder family members are ready for some rest and relaxation, and the younger members are ready to try something new, the store is for sale.
The family built a cabin in Brown County and has been spending time there since 1988. Koontz would like to hang out there even more.
“Now it’s just time to move on,” said Koontz, who officially retired five years ago. “We’re just looking for a buyer and hopefully the right one will come along. We’d like to see the store stay how it is, and everybody that comes in here says they would, too. They don’t want to see it moved or closed, and they like the service.”