A family-owned Nelson business marks its 90th birthday this week and the tenth anniversary of its expansion. Hipperson’s Home Hardware will celebrate the occasion at both its downtown and lakeside locations with special deals and giveaways today through Saturday.
“It’s unbelievable,” says retired owner Mike Horswill, whose grandfather started the store in 1923. “I think it’s the oldest Home Hardware all in one family.”
Bill Hipperson was a traveling salesman with the Nelson Hardware Co. before striking out on his own. Originally his store was at 324 Baker, but about 1937 he put up a one-storey building across the street at the current location. Second-floor apartments were added later. Hipperson also had a waterfront warehouse, where he stored carloads of Coleman wood ranges, among other things.
A few years before building the new store, he hired Jack Horswill, a retail and wholesale grocer who had married his daughter Margaret. Horswill bought the business in the early 1950s and promised not to change the name — a pact kept by subsequent generations.
But according to Jack’s son Mike, his grandfather could never quite give it up. “I remember going to the store and he was already retired, but he’d owned it, so he could do what he wanted. It was just a hobby for him, an hour a day.”
Mike was first put on the payroll in 1949. “I started when I was 10 working Saturday mornings. I swept floors and filled turpentine bottles.”
After high school and business college, he returned to work with his father, who retired in 1975 the day he turned 65. By then, Mike had bought the business.
The store was previously affiliated with Marshall Wells, then Link Hardware, which merged with Home Hardware in 1981. “The biggest internal change was going from ordering once a week by guess to completely computerized,” Mike says.
But it was the fourth generation that took the business to new heights: Mike’s son Randy worked there as a teenager in the late 1970s, started full-time around 1983, and bought the store in 1997 upon his father’s retirement.
In 2003, he also bought Arrow Building Supply and converted it to a Home Hardware building centre at 101 MacDonald Drive. He now divides his time between the two locations, although the latter is much larger.
“It’s not as old, but it’s definitely the bigger player,” Randy says, noting this week’s birthday party also marks a decade since the expansion. “Our lumber yard is where the store used to be. In 2006 we expanded across the street and in 2008 expanded again. It’s gone from about 3,000 square feet in the store to 11,000.”
(The Baker Street location, meanwhile, expanded its selection of housewares and seasonal fixtures.)
Today Hipperson’s employs a dozen people downtown and 46 at the building centre between the store and lumber yard. Turnover is rare: in addition to Randy Horswill’s 30 years, building supply centre manager Bob Marsh has worked there for 32, Bill Hobbs for 28, and Hipperson’s manager John McArthur for 20. Several others have 10 to 15 years of service.
Will a fifth generation of the Hipperson-Horswill clan take over? Very likely, Randy says. Three of his children, Brittany, Linden, and Courtney have worked there.