Lenexa-based Westlake Ace Hardware has finalized its purchase of the Williams Ace Hardware stores in Wichita and Andover, which brings to an end an almost 60-year venture for Jim Williams and his family.
“We have a very long history in Wichita,” says Williams, who is 69.
His late parents, Jim and Barbara Williams, started Williams Hardware in 1958 at the southwest corner of Central and Oliver.
“I was down there when I was 11 years old on opening day and passed out roses to the ladies and bubble gum to the kids,” Williams says.
Williams worked at the store when he was young and then went to college, then into the Navy and then back to college.
“I’ve been working there ever since.”
Williams says he decided to go into the business full time rather than pursuing another field.
“I decided that the store actually meant more to me because I like helping people, and we’ve always been known for customer service,” he says. “People just praised us.”
The store became affiliated with Ace Hardware in 1974 and moved to its present Wichita site on East Central just west of Woodlawn in 1978.
Williams purchased the business from his parents in the mid-1990s. His sister, Sarah, is married to Nick Dondlinger, and the Dondlinger family purchased the business in 2012.
“I wanted to keep it in the family, and I also saw the need for younger people to come in to actually make the store even more vibrant and successful, and they’ve done that,” Williams says.
Williams still owns the property and will continue to.
Last month, Have You Heard? reported that a deal was close for Westlake to purchase the stores. The company now owns five in the Wichita area and 98 across eight states. The new stores will be rebranded Westlake Ace shortly.
Williams has been working about 30 hours a week at the store until this week. Tuesday was his last day at the business.
“I decided I’m ready to just kind of … give up. I’m getting tired.”
He says it’s not that he no longer cares.
“I’m going to miss my customers terribly, and that’s what it’s all been about. Doing for them what I would like to have done for me if I went into a retail store. Today, you have big companies that are driven by policy and strict rules. When you are a small business and family owned, you have the flexibility of doing awesome things for the customers. … Really wow them.”
He says that might be allowing returns without receipts or accepting expired loyalty cards.
That way, Williams says of customers, “they kept coming back. I mean, it’s just good, common sense.”
Also, he says employees “were like family in that store.”
“I used to work there seven days a week,” Williams says. “Before we were open on Sunday, I used to go down on Sundays and work. … My entire life has been devoted to that store.”
Williams says he wishes the best for Westlake Ace.
“The success of the that store means more to me than anything,” he says. “You can almost say it’s like the transition of our new president-elect. And believe me, I want Westlake to succeed.”
Williams says the store is his family’s legacy.
He says he wants “everything we’ve stood for to still hold true for all the many people we’ve served, and I don’t want that to ever, ever cease.”