GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Everybody in the Alger Heights area seems to know Bill DeJong, owner of Alger Hardware and Rental.
One recent morning, he was helping a customer unload a tiller from the man’s trunk.
“I am on the floor, all day every day,” he remarks. “I have people I have in the office, and I let them do the office work. And I'm up here helping customers.”
It’s that personal touch that DeJong believes is the key to his store’s success, especially since he doesn’t belong to any of the big hardware co-ops or franchises. Alger Hardware really is an independent hardware store.
“Shopping local, as opposed to a lot of folks are getting things from Amazon right now, if it isn't, right, you bring it right back, we exchange it,” he explains. “If you don't know how to put it together, we can help you figure that out.”
DeJong goes on to tell the story of the man who bought a grill online, not realizing he was expected to assemble it upon delivery. “They paid us to assemble a grill,” he says. “Whereas, if you bought it from us, we would have had it put together for you.”
Solving people’s problems is a daily commitment for the store, “helping them through projects, plumbing and electrical and lawn and garden you know, whatever they have going on.”
Alger Hardware is one of the few businesses we’ve visited that actually did better than normal during the pandemic. “Everyone was home, and they had money, and they had time,” DeJong recalls. “So they were doing home repairs.”
But while the store had “our best year of sales ever,” it is still experiencing fallout from the pandemic: “Every week, our order comes in and 20 to 30% of the order is out of stock. And those are typically items we're selling. And if you don't have that, what are you going to sell folks?”
And while staffing can also be a problem (“a few people that just moved on to other things”), DeJong considers himself lucky to have a father-son team with the skill set for small engine repairs. Though even that area has been affected by shortages, but not the kind you would think of: there are spark plugs available but no packaging to ship them in.
But when times get tough, you can always drown your sorrows in the store’s ice cream shop, called “Heights Cream.” Dejong and his staff carved some room at the front of the store to serve ice cream after a brewery replaced the ice cream store next door.
It’s that kind of change that continues to upgrade the Alger Heights business district.
“We have a good diversity of businesses here. A few years back we didn't have much in the way restaurants: we had Real Food Cafe and we had JB’s Pizza. And so, it didn't you know lend itself to a lot of evening activity. Well, now Old Goat moved in a few years ago and they're open till 9, 10 o'clock at night, and the brewery next door, Brass Ring Brewery. So, we get a lot more evening activity around here now, which is really nice.”