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Inside Ann Arbor's Ace Barnes Hardware: A 2018 'Coolest Hardware Store'

Photo: Meredith Bruckner
Photo: Meredith Bruckner

ANN ARBOR – Earlier this year, Ace Hardware Corporation named Ace Barnes Hardware on 2105 W Stadium Blvd. a 2018 "Coolest Hardware Store."

Stores were chosen, "based on how each Ace store differentiates its product offerings, services and culture to meet the needs of the community."

“There are 5,000 Ace stores around the world and we were chosen this year among three other stores from around the country," said co-owner Bridgett Barnes. "I don’t know if we’ve been nominated before, but it is our first time. They’ve only been doing it for six years or so and there are a lot of cool Ace Hardwares around the country."

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

So what gives Ace Barnes Hardware the edge?

It's family-owned.

"My grandfather opened it in 1939," said Barnes. "He started it in Dearborn but he wanted a more recession-proof town, and Ann Arbor, with the University, tends to lean a little bit where you’re not as dependent on the auto industry and the economy’s a little more diversified. So he moved here in the '50s.

"We were down the street. He bought the property before there was sewer and water (in this area). It was a lot of farmland out here when he opened -- Ann Arbor was developing coming west."

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

After she and her brother spent time away pursuing other careers, they decided to come back home and enter the business.

"I've been back about 15 years," Barnes said. "My mother does all of our housewares area and she lives and breathes for this. We try to encourage her not to be here as much because we don’t want her to overdo it, but she loves it so she’s here every day.

"My brother, my dad and I co-own it, even though my mother should probably be the owner because she works the hardest!"

Rita and Bridgett Barnes (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Bridgett's mother, Rita, can often be found on the floor offering customers help and always with something in hand; from a bushel of artificial flowers to a string of decorative lights, she's always working on something, and always with a smile.

"My dad and my uncle took over when his father passed away," said Barnes. "They had knick-knacky gift-type things and my dad had a vision of being more into housewares. My mom was a buyer at a furniture store here in town, so he gave her a little spot. This was probably 40 years ago. She had a little two feet or four feet area and it just kept growing."

Housewares makes up about half of the store and is front and center when you enter. It truly embodies the term "eye candy." They stock designer French lawn furniture, hand-painted Polish pottery, gorgeous artificial wreaths and florals and lots of local, Michigan-made items.

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Bridgett and Rita travel to attend several trade shows every year. They believe a continuous stream of new products contributes to their success.

"When the recession hit a number of years ago, it was really scary to keep buying stuff but we knew we had to keep things fresh otherwise people aren’t going to come in," Barnes said.

Another reason for Ace Barnes' success is their commitment to being a community store.

"The nice thing about Ace is, we’re a co-op, we’re not a franchise," explained Barnes. "It’s a good community store. Our community supports us and allows us to be a little different, and Ann Arbor is a good town to be a little different in."

(Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

At this point, Rita stopped by to join the conversation and said, "I've always told people what they ask and what they want is why we are what we are."

Customer recommendations is another way Ace Barnes discovers new items.

"Our customers will bring us new products," explained Bridgett. "They’ll read about something and then we go research and find it and get it in for them. They are also a great source for us."

Outside the store's doors, Ace Barnes Hardware is actively involved in supporting local charities and organizations.

Ann Arbor's annual FoolMoon (Photo: WonderFool Productions)

"We're one of the main sponsors of FestiFools," said Bridgett. "We do more with the FoolMoon event. It’s a great family event. It just makes you happy. It’s something that we are really excited to be part of just because there are so many things that go on that aren’t free and that aren’t family friendly.

"We also help sponsor Food Gatherers. They do their big grill event in (June). We provide all the grilling equipment to cook the food. There’s a lot of churches and homeless shelters and schools that all come looking for things and we’re happy to help them."



About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.