Chuck and Cindy Hultman, long time owners of the Big Lake Hardware Hank, reflected on their past 40 years with the store, as they will be retiring early this year. New owners have purchased the shop and will likely take over daily management sometime in January.
Purchasing the Store
Chuck Hultman’s father, who worked in construction, was the one who always wanted to run a hardware store. He saw an opportunity to purchase the Big Lake Hardware store in the 80’s, when the previous owners, a widow and her daughter, had trouble running the location between the two of them after the death of the husband.
Chuck was working as a drilling manager for Traut Companies out of St. Cloud at the time. He said his father asked him if he would like to talk to the owners and possibly purchase the store and help him run it. Chuck agreed, and, after making a deal with the previous owners, they transferred ownership a few months later, in the fall.
Chuck helped his parents run the store until they decided to retire in the 90’s. Later, Chuck’s wife, Cindy, also began to work at the store. Their son, Clayton, also has worked at the store for many years.
In the 80’s, the Hultmans moved the store from the old location, next to the Third Rail Bar, to the new location, in the strip mall behind the post office.
All three of the Hultmans said they really enjoyed having an opportunity to serve people. Being the only hardware store in town, at some point nearly everyone in Big Lake has stopped in to see the family or the other employees.
The Hultmans take a lot of pride in going above and beyond simply selling parts.
“No one is going to buy a water heater from you if you can’t install it,” Chuck Hultman said, as an example.
Chuck is a licensed plumber, and his son, Clayton, often gives him a hand in this area, although he doesn’t yet have a plumbing license himself. Chuck and his father did the plumbing themselves when they moved to the strip mall location.
The Hultmans witnessed first hand as Big Lake’s population exploded. When Chuck and his father first purchased the store, the population of Big Lake was only around 1,600 people, compared to today’s almost 11,000. The Hultmans were proud to say they know lots of people in the community. As the community grew, it became clear that there would be a need for a hardware store that offered more to the customers. So the Hultmans purchased the Snyder Drug Store that was located next to the shop and knocked down the wall, nearly doubling the square footage of the store.
“We had some really great employees and a lot of great friends,” the Hultmans said on their time serving the community.
Deciding to Retire
“It was time,” Chuck said on his, and his wife’s, decision to retire.
So when an offer came in from a family who was interested in purchasing the store, the Hultmans decided it was a good opportunity.
Chuck says what he looks forward to most in retirement is simply not working. He also looks forward to enjoying his property on the river in Clearwater, and possibly making something out of some property the couple owns in Staples. Cindy Hultman said that she would like to take some time to learn how to golf, and try other things that she hasn’t been able to do while running the shop.
Clayton plans to offer his services and expertise to the new owners, if they want it. Regardless, he plans to step away from the store somewhat, in order to help grow his own business, a handyman service. He says he looks forward to being able to control his schedule more and spend more time with his wife and kids.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Clayton, who had once hoped to take over the business himself. However, it is a lot of work for only one owner, and he has a newborn at home. “Family is the most important thing,” he said.
Future of the Store
All three Hultmans said they thought the new owners, Lori and Dave Able, would do a phenomenal job running the shop. The family has had experience running another hardware store, and they have kids who are old enough to lend a hand when needed. Besides, the Hultmans are leaving behind a team of excellent employees who are experienced and talented. Specifically, the Hultmans praised their employees Jeanie and Dan, who each have more than 10 years of experience working at the store.