Wednesday, January 14, 2004
One of the last of the old-growth downtown businesses is about to fall.
In the last 20 years or so, longtime Hood River residents have watched as names long associated with downtown became history. Paris Fair. Keir’s Drugstore. The Rialto Theater, First National Bank, J.C. Penney, Central Market.
Now to be added to the list is Franz Hardware. A 95-year run as a fixture at the corner of Second and Oak streets is ending sometime this year.
Pete Jubitz, third generation owner of the store, stated his reason simply: “Retirement.”
“And the next sentence is that none of our children want to do this, to be in this business,” he added.
Jubitz and his wife decided a year ago that retirement was what they wanted and they’ve been working toward that goal ever since. Their first hope was to sell the business, but that didn’t work out.
“So the plan is to close it, sell off the inventory, rent the space here and life goes on,” he said.
One doesn’t have to guess at the emotional toll it will take. Jubitz shook his head gently.
“It does weigh heavily on me that it’s stopping with me,” he said. But he is pragmatic. He knows that small, old-time hardware stores like his are having a very hard time everywhere. He can’t say whether it’s a result of people shopping the suburbs or on the Internet, but figured now was a good time to get off.
“There’s no single thing; there are a bunch of things together. It brings great solace to my soul that other businesses like ours have had the same problem. Commerce has changed,” he said.
The ones who will miss Franz Hardware the most aren’t the tourists looking for nostalgia. The store has earned the loyalty of many area residents by providing a selection and level of service not easily found. For years the owners have had the reputation of tracking down items they didn’t have in stock. Or taking the time to listen and help.
“People come in with plumbing problems, for example, and I’m pretty good with plumbing. I can’t tell you how many $1 sales I’ve made that I spent 30 minutes to get,” he laughed. “That part of Hood River will just be gone.”
As a parting gift to his longtime friends and customers, Jubitz invited them to a private sale Monday and Tuesday, giving them first choice of the liquidated inventory as well as an additional discount.
Franz Hardware has seen downtown Hood River go from dirt streets and boardwalks, wooden front buildings and horse-drawn carriages, to the parking space-challenged, bustling tourist town it is today. Its inventory has changed over the years but not much else about the store has been altered.
E.A. Franz opened his hardware store in 1909, selling the merchandise in demand at the time — stoves, paint, horse and carriage supplies, sewing machines, and of course, hardware. The store developed a reputation for the multitude of items it stocked. The merchandise lined the walls nearly to the ceiling, where it was accessed by ladders hung on rails along the walls. Those ladders are still in use today.
In 1937 Franz sold his business to George Jubitz, Sr., and his son Gil. George Sr. brought a wealth of experience from his years working at a hardware wholesaler in Portland. Father and son ran the business until 1939, when George Jr. joined the company. Shortly after that the elder Jubitz returned to Portland and left the business in the capable hands of sons George and Gil, who worked together for the next 40 years or so.
In the late 1970s George Jr.’s son, Pete, surprised him by returning to Hood River after a successful career in the food brokerage business, wanting to join the team. The younger Jubitz couldn’t explain his change of heart; it just happened. A couple of years later he bought out his uncle Gil’s interest, and worked with his father until Dad Jubitz retired.
Pete had no desire to modernize and make radical changes, and he didn’t. He did hook up with Ace Hardware in 1984 in order to broaden the selection and keep prices competitive. A fire in the upper floor of the building in the summer of that year forced him to close the store for a month or so for cleanup and remodeling. And the exterior of the store got a different look in 1986 when the Dutch Boy Paints sign that had graced the west wall for years was replaced by a mural of Mt. Hood rising above the valley.
For one season a couple of years ago Jubitz added a fresh fruit area downstairs called City Fruit Company, accessible by its own entrance on Second Street.
But after 45 years of working — the last 25 of those years at the Franz store — Jubitz has had enough.
“At age 84 my dad was still coming here to work every day. I don’t want to do that,” he said. “Now I can go do other things. We raised our own eight children — now I don’t have to miss things like kids’ baseball games.”