2009-05-16 / Top News

Lipnitz Is New Owner of Island Hardware

By Karen Gould

Kirk Lipnitz of St. Ignace awaits a sign that will hang outside his new Mackinac Island business, Island Hardware and Lumber. He began leasing the space April 1 from Arnold Transit. The store, which will be open year-around, sits near the Coal Dock on Mackinac Island. Kirk Lipnitz of St. Ignace awaits a sign that will hang outside his new Mackinac Island business, Island Hardware and Lumber. He began leasing the space April 1 from Arnold Transit. The store, which will be open year-around, sits near the Coal Dock on Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island's only hardware store opened with a new name and owner April 1, when Kirk Lipnitz of St. Ignace began leasing the building space and fuel facilities. The former Arnold Transit business now operates under the name Island Hardware and Lumber and will be open year-around.

The store has always been known to Island residents and workers, although not often visited by tourists, who rarely find their way onto the narrow street that leads to the Coal Dock. Tucked in the back of a much larger building, the tiny add-on structure was built in the 1980s and now is packed from floor to ceiling with about $20,000 in new inventory and all of the inventory from the old hardware store.

Mr. Lipnitz, who began his career in the hardware business working at his family's St. Ignace True Value Hardware store, also owns Moran Lumber True Value with his wife, Julie.

Ben Nye (left), owner of Great Turtle Toys and the Flagship, receives assistance from Darryl "Smitty" Smith of the new Island Hardware and Lumber Ben Nye (left), owner of Great Turtle Toys and the Flagship, receives assistance from Darryl "Smitty" Smith of the new Island Hardware and Lumber Expanding services is already underway at the store. A counter has been added and a wall of pegboards is filled with

items.

"We're a long ways away SAVE from where we're going to be, yet," Mr. Lipnitz said.

Departments include plumbing, paint, electrical, and nuts and bolts. Once the old paint inventory is sold, said Mr. Lipnitz, he will choose a new brand to carry, based on local preference.

"We're basically beefing up every department that they had," he said.

The lawn and garden section will include bags of topsoil, lawn mowers, gas grills, grass seed, and lawnmower parts.

Also new will be appliance repairs, which Mr. Lipnitz will perform. A portion of the building that had served as storage by the previous hardware store, now has been converted into retail space and another section will be used to store lumber and cut glass.

The reason he sought the lease for the Island business, said Mr. Lipnitz, is to expand his market.

"You can't just sit there and wait for somebody to come to you," he said. "You need to go out there and get the business."

Purchasing in bulk to supply the businesses will help keep the pricing in line and residents may even see some prices lower than before because of the volume of sales, he said.

Once the store is set up, he plans to begin making weekly outside sales visits around the Island, which will include working with contractors and businesses. He will work with contractors on paint, lumber, and other items and he plans to offer cleaning and janitorial supplies to hotels and other businesses.

Helping run the Island store is Darryl "Smitty" Smith of Moran. Working on the Island is not new to Mr. Smith, a painter. He worked for Grand Hotel and Native Painting for about 12 years, painting many cottages and downtown businesses.

"I'm part of the woodwork over here. About every building here on Main Street, I've touched," Mr. Smith said. "I enjoy being over here. I know about everybody."

For 27 years, Island resident Lee Finkel managed the hardware operations. He began working in the store April 10, 1982, and retired last September.

"It was time for a change," he said of the new ownership. "The store looks great and we all wish him well."

Mr. Lipnitz is leasing the fuel facility, offering regular unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel. Already, he said, sales have been strong for diesel fuel for tractors, and gasoline has been sold to the city for emergency vehicles. Fuel also will be sold to boaters once the season begins and the marina opens. In the winter, as before, gasoline will be sold to snowmobilers.

The store will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by the end of May, it will be open on Saturday through Labor Day.

"Once we get a feel for what we are doing," he said, "we'll be as open as much as we need to be."

He already is planning to have an extra person on staff during yacht race weekends.

The business can be successful for someone who can buy in bulk and have inventory on hand, said Bob Brown, general manager at Arnold Transit, the former operator of the store.

"Basically, we were losing money; it's that simple," he said of the move to lease the hardware business. "I always felt that somebody could make it go over there as long as they were working out of another inventory."

The Island Hardware store began operating as a paint store on the Island from the Arnold Line offices on the Arnold Dock. It was a small operation, said Mr. Brown.

"I can't really tell you when" it started, he said. "It mainly started as a paint business. There was so much painting on the Island and they figured we've got to paint our boats and buildings over here, we might as well become a Pittsburgh paint dealer. When they actually got the franchise, I don't really know. My guess is in the '40s or '50s."

At one time, Mr. Brown speculates, Arnold Line probably was the largest Pittsburgh paint dealer in the Upper Peninsula.

"If somebody wanted a gallon of paint," he recalls, "we'd have to go over and mix it and shake it and send them out the door."

Many buildings at the time were painted white with green trim, and the dock had a ready supply of Kentucky green paint.

The company also carried a few hardware items, and lumber was kept on both the Arnold Dock and the Coal Dock.

In the early 1980s, a little add-on building was constructed for the store on the Coal Dock, inventory was increased, and people were hired to operate the hardware business.

Mountains of coal used to cover the dock, said Mr. Brown. The coal was used by boats for fuel and for heating Island homes and businesses.

In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, as coal was replaced with heating oil, four large fuel tanks, each holding about 10,000 gallons of fuel oil, were installed near the Arnold Dock.

"Back then, there were a lot of places on the Island that needed heating oil, so we'd have to store it throughout the winter," he said. "The heating oil would be pumped into tank wagons and drays would haul them off to houses."

A portable electric pump would transfer the fuel oil from the wagon to the building's fuel tanks.

The Coal Dock also had three or four tanks that sat on the dock. Eventually, they were eliminated as the need started to drop and people used electricity to heat homes. The tanks were capped, towed by boat to St. Ignace, and scrapped.

Now, the Island stores 8,000 gallons of gas and 1,000 gallons of diesel in an underground facility, which is now run by Mr. Lipnitz.

In previous winters, Arnold Transit tank wagons would hold about 4,000 gallons of gas, said Mr. Brown. Two skid tanks on the end of the dock hold 1,000 gallons each of fuel and can be filled in preparation for winter, if needed.

With only a few weeks of experience on the Island, Mr. Lipnitz said in April that business was going well.

"We really didn't know exactly what we were getting into over here," he said, "but I'm completely happy with how it's going so far."

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2009-05-16 digital edition