Ace is the place to retire

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Emry Dinman/Sun Tribune - After 41 years of business and customer service, Ken Story, owner of the Othello Ace, has retired.

After 41 years of providing Othello with nuts, bolts and the expertise to explain the difference, Ace Hardware owner Ken Story has sold the store to Stan’s Merry Mart.

While Story’s time as an Othello business owner began in 1977, his journey in the world of construction started even earlier. As a high schooler in Lincoln City, Oregon, Story’s first job was in a lumberyard, working inside with customers, driving trucks full of lumber to Portland, and taking bids on the yard’s finished product. The second summer on the job, Story’s manager left him in charge, giving him his first experience in a management position.

It was only a few years later that Story went to work in 1975 for a Springfield outfit of Coast to Coast hardware, a now defunct franchise that once had hundreds of locations from Ohio to Washington. A friend of Story’s father owned a Coast to Coast franchise in Lincoln City, and the father and son duo began talking about the possibility of getting into business together and opening a location of their own.

The two scoured the northwest for an appropriate location, until they finally found themselves in the small, agriculture-centric town of Othello. There, they decided, is where they were going to plant themselves.

“We just felt like these were our roots, farming was our roots,” Story said. “There is an ethic that farmers have, that I’ve seen it in every area where farmers are at. They’re hard working, they’re down to earth, they’re straight forward, and I just really appreciate that.”

They settled on an empty lot, the same location where the Ace Hardware sits now. By Sept. 1977, the Othello Coast to Coast opened its doors for business.

Story was only 25 at the time, and despite some experience in retail and in management, owning a business was the challenge of a lifetime.

“I didn’t know what it meant to have to run a business,” Story said. “I had to learn the hard way, just through the struggles that any new business is going to have. We just kept going.”

Despite the challenge, Story prevailed. Seven years after opening the business, Story bought out his father and became the sole owner of the location.

There were still bumps in the road. In the mid-90s, Coast to Coast was a franchise on the decline. When Story opened the business, they sold TVs, stereos, sporting goods--the store wasn’t specialized like it is now. Walmart hadn’t come to Washington yet, but it was coming, and Story knew that it would change the retail landscape dramatically. He had to do something different.

Ace Hardware was that difference, Story said, and by 1996 the store had converted.

Though the Othello Ace Hardware was the only hardware store in town, competitors have come and gone in the past. Surviving the time and tribulations that shuttered other stores took a keen attention to the needs of the customers.

“One of the things that I came to understand early on, is that everything we’ve got here they can buy somewhere else,” Story said. “So what we need to sell them is ourselves, good customer service. That’s what has sustained us over the years.”

Being the only place Othello residents could turn to for hardware meant that he couldn’t let his customers down. If a customer couldn’t get what they needed from him, he had let them down, Story said.

“I have a philosophy that I am not a salesman for anybody,” Story said. “I’m a buyer for my customer. I started looking and trying to hear, really hear, what do people want, what do they need?”

Customers also wanted to be able to come into a store and know they could get help from an expert, and over time, an acquaintance, Story said. Having been in business for over 40 years, he has come to know much of the community on a face-to-face, name-to-name basis.

Now, as the business Story and the Othello community have kept afloat for over four decades has closed its doors for the last time, he is looking forward to slipping into retirement alongside his wife and perhaps sleeping in for the first time in 41 years.

“I’m really looking forward to spending time with my wife,” Story said. “She’s my best friend, she’s my high school sweetheart. I’m really looking forward to just spending time, and doing some things in our yard, and being able to get into the car and just go where you want to.”

Still, Story said he’s going to miss the people who’ve come into his business day in and day out, who’ve both supported his business and helped him become a part of Othello over the course of 41 years.

“I really love this community,” Story said.

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