Walking around Union Hardware, owner Fred Moritz points out a customer who has shopped in the downtown Seymour store for years.
He then spots another person who had a family member who used to work in the store.
Then he sees a former employee.
Having grown up around the store and working there the past 42 years, Moritz knows pretty much anyone who walks in the front door. It doesn’t take long for him or one of his employees to greet them with a smile, ask if they need help finding something and take them right to it.
That’s why Union Hardware has been in business at 116 S. Chestnut St. since 1894.
“Union Hardware is a building. Union Hardware is not one person. Union Hardware is a combination of employees over the years that have set a culture and a standard and are blessed with knowledge and the ability and desire to help people,” Moritz said. “That’s what has made Union Hardware successful. It’s not one individual. It’s a combination of all of the great people that we have had.”
Soon, however, the store doors will close for the last time as Union Hardware, and a new business will move in.
Moritz said he began seriously considering retirement in October and officially decided in January to go through with it.
“It’s a very difficult decision to make, but it was the right decision,” he said. “Everything has fallen into place perfectly. I couldn’t have planned it any better.”
He turns 69 in September, the economy is on the incline and his health is good, so Moritz said it was perfect timing to retire.
Announcing the store’s closure to his 10 employees was difficult, he said.
“They have all been very kind and generous and accepting,” he said. “They know what kind of hours I put in, but on the same token, my employees have been tremendous. I can’t say enough good things about them because they are the ones that make Union Hardware. It’s not me. I’ve been fortunate to have the best employees that one could ever possibly want.”
A hardware store has been at that location since the early 1860s when it was known as Love and Polson Hardware Co. Then it was Carpenter and Stanfield Hardware in the 1870s and CB Cole Co. in the 1880s.
After Chris Ahlbrand and George Breitfield purchased the business in 1894, it became Union Hardware.
The business suffered its first fire July 24, 1911, and was one of several downtown buildings on that block affected.
Ownership changed hands in 1936 when Moritz’s father, Everett “Hap” Moritz, Fred Droege and Louis Noelker formed a corporation. Hap was 21 at the time. Stock later went to Willis Noelker and Milton Droege.
A second fire struck Union Hardware in February 1961 and required firefighters from more than 15 area departments. Fred was a sixth-grader at the time.
“That was devastating,” he said. “It was burnt from wall to wall. The only thing left standing were the side walls. The front walls and the back walls were all caved in, our safe went to the basement and the floors went out from underneath. It was a total loss. We still have customers today that come in and say they fought the fire in 1961.”
A few weeks later, the store was able to operate out of buildings across the street that the owners had acquired. It remained there until the current building was constructed with terrazzo and concrete floors and steel decking.
Fred began buying the store’s stock in 1972 and started working there April 6, 1976.
Since then, he said the store’s merchandise has changed tremendously.
The introduction of microwaves resulted in people seeking those instead of toaster ovens. Also, smart products hitting shelves in recent years allow people to control them from their phone, old tin gas cans have switched to sophisticated plastic ones and many drills are battery-operated instead of corded.
Plus, light bulbs have gone from incandescent to fluorescent to LED.
“One of the predictions is that the light bulb in 20, 30 years may be a thing of the past,” Fred said. “Light will be emitted from your furniture, from your paint, things that you have in your home, and you don’t even have a light bulb. It will know when to shine and make it bright, and it will know when to not be bright. They are incorporating it into paint now. They are testing that now, and then it will be molded into furniture, fabrics, all kinds of things.”
About 20 years ago at a sales meeting, Fred said a man leading the discussion predicted 80 percent of the items sold at that time would change in some way in the next 20 years.
“It could be new and improved or it could be replaced by something nobody had thought about and hadn’t invented yet,” Fred said. “I kind of scoffed at that, but I don’t know that we’ve reached 80 percent, but there certainly has been a huge change in merchandise offering of what we sold then and what we sell now.”
To keep up with the products and trends, Fred attended annual Do It Best trade shows. Union Hardware has been a part of that 4,000-member organization of independent stores for many years.
“We buy cooperatively together to get the best deals for our customers and also to get a wide assortment of merchandise,” Fred said. “Our catalog has over 33,000 items available to our customers. If they just walk in and say, ‘I want something,’ we have 33,000 items at our fingertips that we can order and have it within a week’s time.”
The number of employees has decreased a little over the years. Fred said the store used to have two full-time mechanics working on small engines and mowers, but the store stopped selling those at one point. There also used to be a full-time appliance repairman, but now, the manufacturers have their own service people.
Learning something new from the products or through customers’ questions has kept his job interesting, Fred said.
“No day has ever been the same. All new challenges every day,” Fred said. “I’ve loved this job. Very few people can work at a job for 42 years and say they’ve enjoyed it and they wouldn’t change it. I would not change it for a minute.”
Fred also said he has been fortunate to have a very low turnover of employees, mainly because they know they are valued.
“They know their opinions are worth a lot, and it’s easy to work with them, and you don’t have to stand and look over their shoulder. I’ve never done that,” he said. “They come to me with suggestions and say, ‘What about doing that?’ and I say, ‘Sure, let’s try it.’ I value their suggestions, and that’s what made this store great is because of the employees and their input.”
Susie Meier of Seymour said her father, James Hall, worked at Union Hardware for about 15 years. Fred’s father hired him after he finished his military service.
Hall then worked for Kruse, a supplier based in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 25 years until he retired.
Meier said she was sad when she heard Union Hardware was closing.
“I said, ‘Oh, there’s another piece of my dad’s history going away,’” she said.
She said the store has served the community well.
“The service has always been great here — always,” Meier said. “If you didn’t know what you were looking for, they would take you right to it. These guys know where it’s at, what you need and it’s perfect. Fred knows his business inside and out.”
Bright pink stickers are on the store’s merchandise showing reduced prices, and the store’s fixtures are for sale, too. There are no returns, exchanges, refunds or layaway being offered, as all sales are final.
There’s also a special promotion where anyone coming into the store can earn points and register to win one of 10 prizes, including a 50-inch television, a drone, a Fitbit, a DVD player, a laptop, a coffeemaker and a remote-control truck.
Fred said the plan is to close the store by mid-to late-June.
A few inquiries have been made about leasing or purchasing the building. With the way Seymour Main Street works with downtown property owners, Fred said he is confident it won’t remain vacant for long.
“You’re seeing more young people become involved in the downtown with new businesses opening up,” he said. “Something good will come of it. Seymour is a good business town, and if you treat people fairly and offer them good services at competitive prices, they will support you, and I think the future is bright.”
Fred said the next business doesn’t have to be a hardware store.
“That’s the beauty of selling it out,” he said. “It could be something else that somebody’s got a great idea to do something with this building, and so it expands the possibilities of something coming to downtown Seymour that we need downtown.”
After working six days a week for many years, Fred is ready for retirement. He still expects to stay busy.
“Both of my neighbors make me look bad from the things that they do and what I don’t get accomplished at home,” he said, smiling. “I have plenty of work to do.”
He also will have more time to spend with his family, including his wife of 42 years, Tracie; sons, Todd and Brad, who live in Indianapolis, and Chad, who lives in Bloomington; and two grandchildren.
“My wife has been a saint over the last 42 years,” Fred said. “She has given up a lot because I have been here at the store working, so it’s time to start a new chapter in life and to start to enjoy some of the things we haven’t been able to do — go to museums and concerts and just explore other cities and travel around the country.”
Fred also plans to devote more time to the Seymour Noon Lions Club.
“It has been a great ride,” he said. “I’ve been truly blessed from all different aspects, from the employees to my association with Do It Best, my family, both my parents and my wife and children. I am doing this on my terms. I’m going out the way I’ve chosen to go out. It’s not a forced thing. It’s just everything has kind of come together to make it a good package to get out.”