Kennewick hardware store changing gears after 100 years

The owner of a 100-year-old retail mainstay in downtown Kennewick is winding down operations.

“Age and time and generations running out; the business is healthy, happy and doing great, but it’s just time for us to change course,” said John Gravenslund, owner and general manager of True Value Washington Furniture and Hardware.

After three generations in business, Gravenslund  said he’s looking to cut back retail operations, knowing this could mean an eventual end to the store.

“The business is strong, it doesn’t owe us anything,” he said.

The change includes a reduction of retail hours from six days a week to four, with limited hours expected during the days it will be open.

“There isn’t a hard-core plan. I’m kind of winging this,” Gravenslund said. “We will be getting out of furniture, for the most part. The hardware, I’m going to play with for a while, with light days and flex days, probably mornings and no afternoons.” Gravenslund plans to continue to service longtime commercial accounts, including those with the city of Kennewick and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, but recognizes changing current operations could result in the potential shutdown of the store.

“If (customers) dwindle off, or those flex hours don’t work for them, then at some point we’ll probably have a total liquidation and auction. It took a long time for this business to get here, so I figure it doesn’t have to happen overnight to get out of here,” he said.

The end of 2018 marks the Gravenslund family’s 100 years with the store at 6 W. Kennewick Ave.

According to family records, the business opened in 1896, with Gravenslund’s grandfather, Wilmot Gravenslund, joining in 1919. It eventually grew to the three-story retail space it is today, selling True Value brand tools, home goods and furniture.

“We’re definitely a homeowner’s store,” said Gravenslund, noting that his shop is the place to come for three screws or a new bedroom set.

Currently open every day but Sunday, Gravenslund noted, “For the family, it’s always been a seven-day-a-week operation.”

He recalled the time his grandfather worked long days, without modern conveniences, to grow what was originally called Washington Hardware. The name expanded when the family added furniture to the inventory, and for a time they flipped the furniture and hardware in the title.

Gravenslund’s parents came into the operation in the 1950s.

“My father had the foresight to take on the True Value brand and develop outside properties to stay diverse and keep the business healthy,” Gravenslund said.

This noted another name change to add True Value to the title. Part of the furniture showroom is on the former site of a roller skating rink that closed after World War II.

“My mother worked several decades to keep the furniture sales up, and merchandise rolling out the door,” he said.

Gravenslund, 58, took over the operation when his father died in the 1980s, and the siblings helped keep the store afloat at that time.

“My wife is now in the back office part time taking up the slack, while my daughter had a brief, yet good, taste of retail,” he said.

Concluding that, “it’s just time,” Gravenslund didn’t actively pursue a sale of the business in favor of a reduction in operations.

“We’re not under the gun to get out of our lease or sell merchandise to pay debt. We’re in a lucky spot because the previous generations put us there,” he said.

He’s also keeping his options open for the Kennewick Avenue property after learning a new high-end mixed-use building is planned just around the corner at 20 N. Auburn St., housing retail and restaurant space below and office and residential space above.

“Maybe I’ll be approached, maybe I won’t,” he said.

He describes the reaction to his decision to pare back as “odd,” compared to his original expectations.

“I figured I’d have bargain hunters asking, ‘Make me a deal on this,’ but, instead, people are just sad. It’s nice that they’re supportive. It’s not the response I thought I would see. People are still coming in and haven’t abandoned us,” he said.

In fact, the furniture department recently took one of the largest special orders in store history.

True Value Washington Furniture and Hardware once employed as many as 30 people, but with automation and streamlined operations, the store now employs about 10. A few employees will stay on during the reduced hours following the end of the year.

Until the end of December, the store will maintain its current schedule: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

Future hours for 2019 have not been decided, as Gravenslund admits the future is “wishy-washy,” but he’s just focused on changing the current setup.

“I’m closing in on 60, and I don’t want to be here when I’m 70, so it’s now or never,” he said.

True Value Washington Furniture and Hardware: 6 W. Kennewick Ave., 509-582-2141.

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