A third-generation Door County hardware store owner recently purchased a hardware store from a third-generation Door County hardware store owner.
Amy (Austad) LaBott, owner of Ace Hardware in Sturgeon Bay, purchased Jungwirth Ace Hardware at 10636 N. Bay Shore Dr. in Sister Bay from Roger Jungwirth. With the purchase that became effective Jan. 1, Jungwirth retired, his last official day in December.
“I guess it’s time,” Jungwirth said.
The store will be renamed Ace Hardware Sister Bay, an achievement for Jungwirth.
“I wanted to keep it a hardware store,” he said.
The Jungwirths and the Austads have been in the hardware business since 1937 and 1939 respectively. LaBott’s grandfather, Russell Austad, had managed the Sturgeon Bay hardware store before buying it. Dan Austad, LaBott’s father, and his brother, Tom, became the second-generation owners. When LaBott’s father retired in 2006 and her uncle died in 2010, she bought out their shares.
On the Jungwirth side, the story is similar: Joe and Winnie Jungwirth, Roger Jungwirth’s grandparents, founded the Sister Bay business, which passed along to their son and daughter-in-law, David and Priscilla, and then to their son, Roger.
Jungwirth said it feels different not heading to the store every day, though he stops by periodically and winds up helping customers.
“I’m not totally out of it,” he admitted.
“Every day I’ve been there, he’s been there,” LaBott said. “When you go to work every day for as long as he was, you get into that habit of this is what you do.”
The Sister Bay store is LaBott’s third. She purchased a Little Chute Ace in 2022 from owners who were retiring, and while in the process of building her new, 30,000-square-foot store in Sturgeon Bay across from McDonald’s on Egg Harbor Road.
“Roger [Jungwirth] thinks I’m crazy, but it’s always been on my personal goal list to own more than one store,” LaBott said.
Ace Hardware is a retailer-owned cooperative, with retailers not only owning their individual stores, but shareholders in the organization that’s managed by a board. That means the location and employees define the store and experience rather than a cookie-cutter template.
“That’s where Ace is really great,” LaBott said. “They give us a lot of leniency. Their focus is to make us successful.”
The 6,000-square-foot Sister Bay store retained six of eight employees – with Jungwirth officially gone and a part-time person retiring – including Jungwirth’s long-time partner, Jen Riley.
Similarly, customers will notice the store will remain both the same, and different.
“As owners we have a lot of latitude to do our own touches,” Jungwirth said. “We were more into fishing tackle than most stores just because of our location. That was kind of our specialty, especially for a time.”
The fishing tackle will remain, as will traditional hardware store sections – fasteners, plumbing, cleaning, electrical, paint – but LaBott plans to add outdoor and BBQ merchandise and some gift items. She’ll also revamp the entire inside of the store beginning in mid-April. The store will remain open throughout the renovations, which are supposed to be finished in May.
LaBott’s former, 14,000-square-foot Ace building at the corner of Jefferson Street and Third Avenue in downtown Sturgeon Bay is still in the process of a remodel that has turned the one space into three separate units, two of those with entrances fronting Third Avenue.
“I have nobody firm as of right now, but I’ve definitely had a lot of people with interest,” LaBott said about future tenants. Although the sale of the Jungwirth property isn’t updated yet on the County of Door’s web portal, the 2024 fair market value of the building and land was listed as $785,300 by Door County Real Property Listing – which is only the assessed value and does not include the business, the inventory, the fixtures and all the equipment that LaBott purchased.
“I didn’t get it for a steal,” LaBott said. “I gave him pretty much what it’s worth – and to me, it’s valuable.”
Coolest Hardware Store East of the Mississippi
Adding another location to her Ace Hardware stores wasn’t the only accomplishment owner Amy LaBott achieved as 2023 came to a close. Ace Hardware Corporation named LaBott’s Sturgeon Bay store the Coolest Hardware Store east of the Mississippi.
She learned she had earned the coveted award in November, but she kept it under wraps until the official announcement last week.
There are 5,000 Ace Hardware stores nationwide, and only two of them are selected for the Coolest Hardware Store – one west of the Mississippi River, the other east.
A blind nomination process, usually through Ace corporate, LaBott said, starts the process. That nomination then goes through a committee to check criteria, including having achieved Ace’s prestigious Pinnacle status – the best of the best store, LaBott said. She has achieved that status 13 years in a row based upon key performance drivers like customer service and community involvement.
“I’m one of 22 stores out of 5,000 that have done it every year,” she said.
She recalled sitting among thousands of her peers at Ace conferences of the past while the video rolled of the Coolest Hardware Store winners and the two selected store owners rose among the thousands to accept the awards.
“It’s kind of a cool thing,” she said. “There you are, and there’s your store, and there’s your town – in front of everybody. I wanted to be that store.”
And this year, she was.