Running Guse Hardware isn’t what it used to be, according to owner Tom Thomson. Since the pandemic, Bryant Avenue construction last summer and his wife’s health decline, keeping the shop going is tough.
Tom closed the connected grocery store called Guse Green Grocer after it became too difficult to run on his own. His wife, Terry Thompson, ran the shop until her breast cancer diagnosis before the pandemic. Terry’s breast cancer went into remission but she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after.
During the early pandemic days, Tom said many customers relied on grocery drive-up or delivery at other retailers instead of walking in the corner shop. Sales dipped. At the same time, his vendors were upping the minimum order and the grocery store didn’t have the space to store surplus groceries.
The Bryant Avenue redesign, which narrowed the street to add a two-way bike lane on a curb and doesn’t allow for turns onto 46th Street, eliminated one of Guse’s four parking spots. Tom used to pay the City $200 for the two 30-minute parking signs, which marked the 40-foot spaces that can fit about two cars each, for a total of four parking spots. Now he has to pay the City $500 for three parking spots. According to City spokesperson, Sarah McKenzie, price increases for parking went into effect across the city in 2023, unrelated to construction. The City hadn’t increased parking prices for 25 years.
“It’s been pretty tough, actually, but it was fun for a while,” Guse Hardware owner Tom Thompson said.
Tom watched traffic at the 46th and Bryant Avenue intersection from inside the shuttered grocery store while we chatted, interrupting himself to point out a garbage truck that nearly got stuck while trying to pass a construction truck on Bryant Avenue. He said that last winter he saw a plow get stuck by other cars turning on the street and the plow driver got out to direct traffic until he could move the plow.
Phase 1 of the Bryant Avenue reconstruction happened last summer between 42nd and 50th streets. Over the winter, flaws in the street design were highlighted. The narrow street design made it difficult for emergency vehicles to access the street with significant snow pileage and cars parked in the street. Right before construction for Phase 2 was to begin this spring, Public Works adjusted plans on the northern part of the project.
Tom said he opposed the street redesign and subsequent loss of parking from the beginning, but he felt like he and other business owners’ concerns weren’t heard at City meetings. During the construction, Tom said his sales were down 30%. They’ve increased since then, but still haven’t reached pre-construction levels. Customers tell him that they don’t drive by the shop anymore because of the street reconfiguration and they forget to come in. Furthermore, many of Tom’s customers are contractors with big trucks.
“If people can’t access these local shops for stuff like this, it’s defeating their alleged purpose of people not driving so much,” Tom said. “Better that they drive six blocks to get here or 10 blocks to get here than 10 miles to go to Home Depot, plus the money stays in the city. Home Depot’s money goes to Atlanta.”
The two parking spaces behind the store are open for customers to park if the front spot is full. Tom is thinking of ways to make space for more spots in the back as well.
Tom said that customers are welcome to park in the two spots behind his store since the street redesign removed some parking. Photo by Melody Hoffmann
“I don’t have anything against bike paths,” Tom said. “Like you’re going to get 10 bags of mulch or cement or something and ride your bike.”
Tom bought Guse in 2004 after working there for a bit. The building has been a hardware store since 1912. Thompson worked at a different Minneapolis hardware store for years prior and wanted to buy that one, but moved on after that sale fell through. The name Guse, which is pronounced GOO-zee, is the surname of the owners two families ago.
When he bought the shop, the previous owners said it was a good thing he lived by Hiawatha Avenue because they lived a block away from Guse and customers would knock on their home’s door after hours for broken toilet fixes. Tom agrees that his home is not too close and not too far from the shop.
Tom and his wife had both been laid off from several jobs before buying the shop. The independence was appealing and the neighborhood was supportive of the local business.
“We were tired of being laid off. I’ve been laid off a couple of times, so we decided to start getting our own thing and do that,” Tom said. “It’s been pretty tough, actually, but it was fun for a while.”
Tom’s wife, Terry, did much of the administrative aspects of the businesses on top of running the grocery store. Since the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Tom does the administrative work and overall upkeep of owning the building himself. It’s a lot of work for one person.
Terry needs full-time care at home, which Tom and his adult daughter provide. Before the diagnosis, Tom said he spent almost too much time at the hardware shop. Since Terry has been sick, Tom’s employees have stepped up to lead while Tom helps his family.
“It’s been very hard now because she can’t write or read or play the piano,” Tom said. “She can hardly get a whole sentence out.”
Tom is talking to lawyers to figure out what to do with the grocery store space and the building as a whole. He said there are businesses interested in the grocery store space, and he’s considering either leasing it out or selling the building and leasing out the hardware store for a little while longer.
“My plans are to keep running the hardware store for a few more years, and then I probably want to retire. My hope is that I’m able to sell the hardware store as an ongoing entity so it stays in the neighborhood,” Tom said.
Neighborhood kids scrambled to pick their favorite candies off the Guse shelves on a sunny August day. Tom said that the kids in the neighborhood were upset when the grocery store closed because they couldn’t get their local candy fix, so a few months later he added a small selection of candy to the already small and stuffed hardware store.
Running an urban hardware store is challenging because there’s not space for multiple brands of one product, let alone space out back for extra products. Tom said that he’s jealous of the rural hardware store owners he meets at conventions because they have pole barns out back to store the extra product they buy in bulk.
If Guse doesn’t have a specific product that a customer is looking for, Tom can order most products fairly quickly and he’s happy to deliver bigger items. If customers are unsure of something, the best bet is to call the store or stop in and ask questions. Tom is proud to have a knowledgeable staff, including himself.
They can paint-match paint colors, sharpen rotary lawn mowers and order reproduction parts for old tools. Tom’s team regularly posts store updates to Facebook.
“There’s a lot of Amazon buying and Home Depot delivering and all that stuff is real hard on a smaller operation like this,” Tom said. “We have some online presence. I’m trying to beef that up. It’s hard to find the time to do it.”
Tom’s favorite part of the job is the people. He said many of his customers learn about his store from previous owners when they buy their houses, and they show up to support the store.
“People seem to be real involved with the community and they want to keep the neighborhood and support the businesses that are here,” Tom said. “The neighborhood really supports the hardware store. It was pretty good, up until late.”
Guse Hardware is located at 4602 Bryant Avenue South and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
The City is now discussing possible adjustments to the first part of the project including widening driveways, rethinking parking and reconsidering snow clearing. There was a virtual meeting to discuss the modifications on Aug. 22 at 6 p.m.