Adam Johnson says the new owner of Morenci's hardware store has a distinct advantage over him and his wife, Gail, when they bought the store 32 years ago.
"We learned everything from our customers," Adam said. "They were very tolerant."
The new owner, Jeremie Peters, along with his wife, Amanda, knows the hardware business very well. Not quite, Jeremie says. He knows hardware, but retail sales is what's new to him.
Jeremiey has operated a business named Avalon Tile and Marble for 15 years and during that time he made many visits to Johnson's Hardware for supplies. For a lot of that time, he thought about what it would be like to own the place.
"Ten years ago I thought that it would be nice to own the hardware store," he said.
When he returned home from a military tour in Afghanistan in November 2011, he learned the store was still for sale and that's when he got more serious about a purchase. The Peters obtained partial funding through the Lenawee Economic Development Corporation's revolving loan fund and Jeremie's dream of owning the store finally became a reality Friday afternoon when Johnson's Hardware changed over to Hometown Hardware.
And what does it feel like to own the business?
"I've been working on this so long, it was almost like another day on the job," Jeremie said. "I feel like an employee learning everything."
He and Amanda will get plenty of help from the Johnson's three existing employees: Jody Pummell with 10 years on the job; Gavin Vanderpool with seven years; and Michaela Merillat with four.
"It's a bit of a change already," Jeremie said about his new life after day three of ownership, "but I like it."
He expects to keep the store open longer on Sunday afternoons in the summer, and, as an early riser, he will soon start to open the store at 8 a.m. rather than 8:30.
He's also thinking of stocking basic lumberyard materials, such as drywall, 2x4s and trim pieces. He would like to rent the tools he used in his previous business, along with some trailers.
Jeremie, a Morenci graduate, and Amanda, a Whitmore Lake graduate, are the parents of a seven-year-old daughter, Amaya, and a four-year-old son, Jeremie.
Gail Johnson recalls how she and Adam got their start in Morenci. The couple began their married life in Garden City where Adam served as a police officer and Gail was a teacher. They later moved to northern Virginia when Adam first took a job with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and later with the National Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
They wanted to return to Michigan to raise their family and Adam's brother, who owned a hardware store in Chelsea, mentioned that Paul and Annabelle Closson were selling their Gambles Hardware store in Morenci.
The Johnsons became owners in September 1980, only to have the store destroyed by fire a few months later, in January 1982.
Meyer's Furniture store had closed, Gail said, and the owner told them that the building he used as a warehouse on the other side of Main Street was available. Renovation got underway and they moved in a few weeks later.
It was a good move, with the unique L-shape building serving as a good location for a hardware store.
"We felt very welcome here even though we weren't born here," Adam said. "We made a lot of friends. We probably learned more about people's live than we needed to know."
Adam jokes that there must be only three families in Morenci, with everybody related to someone else.
"You have to be careful what you say," he said.
With summer traffic ranging from 80 to 100 people a day, the Johnsons got to know a wide array of area residents, and that, Adam said, is what kept things interesting.
"It did go by in a flash," he said. "It seems like only yesterday when we got started."
The word "retirement" hasn't yet sunk in, with Adam still closing out some accounts and Gail helping Amanda with some office training.
Adam urges residents to continue their support of the store, and not just for nuts and bolts, but also for other items that maybe could be purchased more cheaply in a big box store. If the store was no longer there, he said, people would have to do a lot of driving to fill their needs.
"I wish Jeremie well," Adam said. "His knowledge about contracting and repair will benefit people."
It's obvious to both Adam and Gail what they're going to miss the most. It's all the customers who came into the store over the past three decades.