Supplies, and support, at Haviland hardware store

05/13/2007 1:01 AM

01/24/2008 5:15 PM

Vic Hannan searches the aisles of his store for a Styrofoam cooler.

When he finds one, he brings it to the checkout stand at Haviland Hardware and Convenience Groceries, the mom-and-pop place he's owned for about 2 ½ years.

The woman needing the cooler also needs ice.

A sign on the front of the store says that ice costs $2.

The woman starts to pay but Hannan waves his hand and says "It's on me."

In the days since a deadly tornado destroyed the city 12 miles to the west, many people have found solace and supplies, hope and a friendly smile in the unassuming store with creaky wood floors and big front windows.

They have hugged and kissed there, cried there and laughed there.

Journalists from Wichita found a priceless Internet connection there.

Especially the first two days after the tornado knocked out electricity, land lines and cell phone service, Eagle reporters and photographers used the hardware store as a home base to transmit their work back to Wichita. Although the self-described "ultraconservative" jokingly traded political barbs with what he assumed were "left-wing" big-city reporters, he also was generous and trusting enough to offer a key in case they needed in to use the computer after hours.

The store bustled with activity last week as townspeople trudged in to buy bags of potato chips, frozen burritos, bandages, cleaning supplies and toiletries -- and to exchange stories about the storm.

Hannan and right-hand man Joe Blair, his only employee, listened behind the counter of a little-bit-of-everything store.

The building has stood on Haviland's main street since 1916. Hannan figures there have been about 10 owners over the years.

He grew up in the Haviland area, lived awhile in Lincoln, and now lives on a farm in the country with his wife, Kathy.

When Hannan took over, he added wireless Internet and a public access computer.

"It's a cool place for kids to be able to go," he said.

He likes driving by at night and seeing the town's youngsters and adults alike using laptops on the sidewalk out front of the store.

The store typically is closed Sundays, but Hannan and Blair have been working weekends since the tornado.

"People just needed a place to go," he said.

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