NORTH CENTER — Like the old jingle says, “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man,” and for 145 years, that guy’s last name has been Stauber.
First there was Louis Stauber, then his son William, then grandson Louis and finally great-grandson Steve — four successive generations of Staubers who’ve helmed the Chicago hardware store that’s borne their name since 1872.
With Steve, a bachelor, retiring and his siblings’ children established in other fields out of state, there won’t be a fifth generation.
A liquidation sale is now underway at 3911 N. Lincoln Ave. as Steve Stauber prepares to say goodbye come November to the shop where he’s reported to work for the past 45 years.
“This was not a sudden thing. This has been well thought out and planned. I put in my time, it’s been a great run,” Stauber said.
“Certainly I am sad,” he said, “but I’m also glad.”
He’ll miss his customers and employees, many of whom have 25-plus years of service and one who’s been around long than Stauber himself, but “I won’t miss the hassle of the city,” he said.
Stauber is moving north to indulge his passion for aviation, specifically to focus his attention on the flight school and small airport he owns in Wisconsin.
How does one come to own an airport?
“You write a big check,” Stauber said. “In this country, you can buy anything.”
But the end of the Stauber Hardware dynasty — William was one of five Ace Hardware founders in 1924 — doesn’t mean North Center residents will be forced to search for their widgets and whatchamacallits at cavernous big box alternatives.
“We have a very viable business … it’s always been a successful store,” Stauber said. “Ace Hardware does not want to lose this location.”
Negotiations are in progress between Ace and another prospective owner, according to Stauber, who added, “I’m of the belief Ace will work out a deal.”
Over the years, nay decades, nay centuries, the presence of Stauber Hardware has been one of the few constants in a neighborhood that scarcely resembles the North Center of 100 much less 50 years ago.
“I think the greatest change was the gentrification of our neighborhood,” said Stauber.
“When I started, North Center was blue collar and Ravenswood was all industrial,” he said.
“We used to be one of the biggest power tool and hand tool businesses in the city,” supplying all those tradesmen and manufacturers, Stauber recalled.
Then industry moved to the suburbs, vacant buildings were converted to lofts and McMansions were built, he said.
“Our business flipped to the do-it-yourselfer,” said Stauber.
Before he closes the book on this chapter of the Stauber saga, we had one last question for the helpful hardware man: What are the essential tools everyone should have in their toolbox?
Without hesitating, Stauber responded: “A four-in-one screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a hammer. You can do an awful lot of stuff with a screwdriver, pliers and a hammer.”