Archive for Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Closing the shop

September 13, 2006

Visitors thronged to Lenahan's Hardware one last time. As auctioneer Lynne Sebree ran the show, John Lenahan, owner of the hardware store since 1971, relaxed in his office chair.

Throughout the years, Lenahan has been known to take a little snooze in his padded chair. But Saturday morning, he was wide awake.

About an hour after the auction started, Lenahan, who at 83 is retiring, said he didn't know how the prices were going.

But he quipped, "I haven't cried yet."

Those at the auction came from near and far. Some to buy and some simply to reminisce.

"I just used to come out here when I was a young man," said Steve Alexander, who lives in Merriam. "I used to shop here when I lived in Bonner Springs."

Though Alexander said there wasn't anything in particular he was after, he noted he likes collectibles, primitives and anything with advertising on it.

And, he thought the sale might be a good one for Lenahan.

"I think everything is going along pretty high," Alexander said of the prices.

Changing paths

Even if the sale were a success, of course to Lenahan, it was bittersweet.

"Well, I'm kind of down in the mouth, but not too bad," Lenahan said. "They talk about episodes in your life -- I've had quite a few of them and another one doesn't really affect me too much."

Lenahan, known as much for his collection of historic Tonganoxie photos as for his hardware store, said he hopes the building's new owners, Matt and Vickie Bichelmeyer, will continue to display his collection.

Local history is important, Lenahan said.

"Seems like things are so cruel in this world, we need something pleasant to think about, and these old artifacts are a release," Lenahan said.

That's why he sold his photo collection with the building.

"I wanted them (the photos) to stay on Fourth Street," Lenahan said, noting he'd had offers from other people who wanted to buy the photos. He said a man from California made a casual offer of $9,000.

"I wouldn't sell them because they came from people in the community," Lenahan said. "It's not my collection, it belongs to the community. I just put it together and housed it."

Sentimental goodbye

Bob Lentz drove over from Meriden to attend Lenahan's sale.

"I'm interested in horse-related items," said Lentz, whose father long ago ran a harness shop in Meriden.

Lentz said a year ago, after spending more than two months in a hospital, he had to sell his horses.

But now he's doing better and looking to get back into raising horses again.

"Hell didn't want me, heaven didn't want me, so I'm just sticking around raising Cain," Lentz said with a wry smile.

Nearby, a lifelong customer of the hardware store wondered where his family now would buy hardware items for their century-old dairy operation.

Terrence Holton was born in 1958, two years after Carl Oakson turned the former Royal Theatre into a hardware store.

"The old-style hardware store is what farmers would need, the big bolts, stuff like that, a lot of this stuff isn't anything that will be available here anymore," Holton said.

Holton said he was a back-door customer, always parking in the back and coming in through Lenahan's back door for convenience.

And, he said, Lenahan always was good to his family.

Holton recalled when the dairy was struggling to break even with low milk prices and ever-rising expenses. He and his brothers, Kevin and Kerry, realized Lenahan hadn't billed them for their supplies in quite a while.

Holton said they contacted Lenahan, who said he'd heard the dairy was going through tough times and said he didn't want to send them a bill until he knew things were going better.

At Saturday's auction, Holton bought a set of sockets.

But that wasn't why he attended the sale.

"Mainly I just wanted to come here to be in on the last thing," Holton said. "I'm going to miss this old store."

Holton said he understood there may not have been enough business to entice Lenahan to keep the store going.

"He (Lenahan) told me when he first decided to sell out, 'If I had a dozen more customers like you boys, I would've stayed in business,'" Holton said.

Moving on

Meanwhile, Lenahan, who has published two books on Tonganoxie's history, is working on his third book.

His advent into publishing began with his interest in local history.

"If you just make a little effort and you concentrate on it for a while, it will all come together," Lenahan said. "The first thing you know, you've done something worthwhile."

And, Lenahan, a lifelong Tonganoxie resident, said, his days will be slower, now that he won't be opening his shop every morning.

Generally, at home, when he's not working on the flower beds that his late wife, Jean Lenahan, established, he watches TV, plays solitaire on the computer, or reads books.

For Monday morning, his first day of official retirement, Lenahan had some easygoing plans.

"I'm going to take a walk through the pasture," he said with a shrug, smiling as he added. "I'm going to feed the cats first, though."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.