BUILDING ON HISTORY; As Bangor Hardware closes its doors, new owner Aubuchon is…

This story was published on Dec. 28, 2006 on Page A1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

After 92 years in business, Bangor’s family-owned hardware heavyweight is being acquired by another family-owned firm.

Bangor True Value Hardware will reopen Friday as an Aubuchon store, still stocked with high-gloss paint and hummingbird feeders, plumbing supplies and smoke detectors, but without a Hanson family member as the boss.

“We have nobody to take this over,” co-owner Dick Hanson said Wednesday, referring to his children and co-owner Tom Hanson’s children, who have all chosen to pursue other careers.

“It’s just the timing – and finding another good family-owned and operated business,” he said.

Indeed, the first Aubuchon store opened in Massachusetts in 1908 – six years before Walter Hanson and Hayward Dunham opened their business on Broad Street in downtown Bangor. The Bangor store was primarily a wholesale operation, selling to hardware stores in northern, eastern and central Maine.

Over the past year, representatives from Aubuchon had approached the Hansons three times with offers to buy the business, Tom and Dick Hanson said. At first they declined, but after some consideration, the Hansons made an oral agreement in July.

“I have some mixed feelings, but it’s a very good time for me,” Dick Hanson, 60, said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for Aubuchon and a good opportunity for us.”

Aubuchon will merge Bangor Hardware and neighboring Penobscot Paint Products Co.’s inventories into the current Bangor Hardware building at 21 Washington St.

Aubuchon will reopen the store on Friday, and the Penobscot Paint store will close. Tom and Dick Hanson will continue to own and lease the three adjoining buildings they own in the Washington Street complex.

Since Bangor Hardware had recently begun an expansion into a neighboring structure, the store will boast 15,000 square feet of retail space in about a month.

It’s the extensive history of Bangor Hardware that makes it such a fixture in downtown Bangor. The store has never stopped growing.

In January 1964, Walter Hanson retired from the wholesale end of the business, but continued a retail operation with his son, Fred Hanson, under the name Bangor Hardware Co. The wholesale operation moved to 26 Front St. and merged with ACME Supply to become ACME-Dunham under the ownership of F. Donald Crowell and his son, Lewis A. Crowell.

That same year, Fred and his late wife, Hester, brought their children, Dick, Tom, Helen and Carolyn, in to help run the store. Tom and Dick went on to graduate from the University of Maine, then returned to the store to work with Carolyn. In 1979, Tom and Dick bought out their grandfather’s portion of the business and worked with their father. Carolyn remained an employee. Fred Hanson, now 88, is retired but remains a shareholder.

In 1965, Bangor Hardware Co. joined the hardware cooperative Cotter & Co., now True Value, to receive shipments directly from manufacturers and keep prices competitive with discount stores. In 1969, the store moved to Washington Street.

The family did not acquire Penobscot Paint until 1998.

Aubuchon, based in Westminster, Mass., is in its third generation of family management. CEO William E. Aubuchon III and President-Treasurer M. Marcus Moran Jr. oversee some 140 paint and hardware stores and one lumber yard throughout New England and upstate New York.

Tom Hanson said he and his brother decided to sell to Aubuchon because they were ready for a career change and because they did not know if they would have another offer.

“The last six years have been the best years ever for this corporation,” said Tom Hanson. “It’s been on the up and up. … It’s just knowing how hard it is to sell a business like this.”

Aubuchon Hardware spokesman Michael Mattson said the company expects to retain as many of the 18 current Bangor Hardware and Penobscot Paint employees as possible.

“We do try to encourage all the employees that are currently employed to remain on board if they’re willing to do so,” Mattson said.

Mattson said customers can expect a few layout and decor changes to the hardware store.

“What we envision … is a modern, brighter-looking location and some categories that weren’t there before,” Mattson said. He listed pet food and pet supplies as some of Aubuchon’s new offerings.

Aubuchon Hardware will not carry Bangor Hardware’s True Value line of products or the art supplies that could be found at Penobscot Paint. The Hansons said they are looking for someone to buy the art supply portion of their business.

The Hanson brothers remain unsure of their next endeavors. Their efforts to keep the stores running when they negotiated the sale did not allow them much time to plan, they said. The brothers have agreed on one change – as property owners, they will call themselves Dunham-Hanson Co., reverting to the family business’s original name.

On Wednesday, the Hansons hosted a small reception in honor of their last day in business. Extended family and longtime customers gathered to share memories and offer best wishes to the Hansons.

“I’m very happy for them,” said Helen Schacht, Tom and Dick’s sister. “Sometimes you have to do things when the time is right, but it’s sad.”

A1 for Thursday, Dec. 28, 2006

View day's stories → | Expand image →