Hardware Co-ops Help Revitalize Neighborhoods

Logan Circle is a storied neighborhood in Washington, DC enjoying an urban renaissance; and Gina Schaefer, proprietor of the Logan Circle ACE Hardware is part of it. Logan Circle is remarkable for its stock of Victorian row houses, many of which are now on the National Register of Historic Places. However, in the hundred years in between when Logan Circle was established and now, the area fell on hard times and experienced the fallout from the 1968 Washington DC riots. The neighborhood’s Victorians got subdivided into apartments and rooming houses, and the area became derelict and unsafe. About a decade ago, people began to see the value in restoring these properties, and Logan Circle has once again become an attractive place to live.

Schaefer was driven to do something for a neighborhood in the process of rebuilding. In the urban core of Washington, DC, hardware stores are few and far between. People in the district’s neighborhoods need a hardware store that can cater to the specific needs of hundred-year-old homes and fixer-uppers. Schaefer believed she could make the most of the chance to serve this community by joining the retail hardware co-op ACE Hardware.

Hardware is a very competitive business; the big box chain Home Depot did $68 billion in sales last year alone. Being part of a cooperative makes it possible for small scale, locally-based owners to compete. There are three hardware co-ops headquartered in the United States: ACE Hardware, Do It Best, and True Value Hardware. ACE Hardware is the largest with 4,600 member stores in 60 countries, Do it Best has 4,100 stores in 47 countries, and True Value has 4,700 retails in the U.S. Combined, the three hardware co-ops do $18 billion in annual sales. They are all organized as retail cooperatives that provide members technical assistance and competitive pricing through their mutually-owned warehouses and distribution channels.

“I figured that by joining a co-op I’d get more support getting started,” Schaefer said. “I liked the fact that they have regional and district support people who could answer questions.” She believes the ideas she’s gotten from ACE have helped her grow and be a better retailer.

Another significant benefit of being part of the ACE co-op is being able to network with other hardware store owners in the U.S. and even abroad. Currently, Schaefer is in her second term as an active member of the ACE board of directors and she appreciates the opportunity to continue to learn from and give back to other members of her co-op.

Today, Schaefer operates five neighborhood hardware stores located throughout Washington, DC, and two in Baltimore, MD, all with the same dedication to serve their local communities. Customers like knowing her stores are part of the ACE co-op because many of them specifically want to support co-ops and local enterprises, be it a food co-op, restaurant or an independent bookstore. Schaefer thinks that this approach to supporting the local economy is a strong factor in Logan Circle’s revitalization. “It’s why we are growing so much,” she said.