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Hardware store returns to Madison's Downtown — with a drive-thru
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Hardware store returns to Madison's Downtown — with a drive-thru

Isthmus True Value Hardware

Greg Norman, left, and Jason Shaw are bringing a hardware store back to Madison's Downtown with Isthmus True Value. The business, at South Bedford Street and West Washington Avenue, is in a former bank building that will allow Norman and Shaw to incorporate the drive-thru into the business plan.

Their band hasn’t played a gig since March, but Jason Shaw and Greg Norman are back together.

Only they’re strutting their stuff among the freshly stocked aisles of fuses, spools of rope, packages of batteries and tubes of calk instead of a stage at the Crystal Corner Bar or High Noon Saloon.

Nearly three years after the closure of the Downtown’s only hardware store, where Norman and Shaw worked for over two decades, the longtime friends and members of the groove rock group Full Vinyl Treatment are scheduled to open Isthmus True Value Hardware this week.

And because the store is located in a former bank building at the corner of West Washington Avenue and South Bedford Street, they plan to incorporate the drive-thru window into the business plan.

Just don’t expect a hammer or roll of duct tape to be pushed through the pneumatic tubes anytime soon. Norman is waiting for and expecting approval from the city for the drive-thru where, initially, the service drawer will be used for small packages but there are plans for a larger 18x18-inch opening for items as big as a bucket of paint, a toaster or power drill.

Customers will be able to order an item over the phone, pay for it electronically and pick it up without getting out of their vehicle but drive-up orders can also be made along with curbside pick-up.

If there’s another hardware store in the country with a drive-thru, Shaw and Norman, and their True Value representative, are unaware of it.

“It started out as a gimmick, but now (with COVID-19) it’s more than a gimmick,” said Norman. “I think having a drive-thru hardware is going to be very unique.”

Isthmus True Value Hardware

Jason Shaw shows off the drive-thru of Isthmus True Value. Small packages will be passed through the service drawer but a larger opening is planned for bigger items.

The site for the 3,000-square-foot store was selected not because of the drive-thru but for the prime location. The store, across the street from the CVS pharmacy and in the same block as the Echo Tap & Grill, is surrounded by student housing, upscale apartments and single family homes. More apartments are being built within eyeshot and Norman and Shaw are hoping to rekindle the relationships they had with property management companies and other businesses when they worked at the Dorn Hardware store adjacent to Capitol Centre Market.

The hardware store, a staple in the neighborhood since the early 1980s, was forced to close in early 2018 to make way for a $2 million expansion at the grocery store. Tom Dorn, president of the hardware company, said at the time that he tried to find another space Downtown to relocate the hardware store but he couldn’t find the right property to buy that would be profitable and fit his business model that needs a store to be at least 15,000 square feet and company-owned.

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Isthmus True Value Hardware

Jason Kopochis of the Hillman Group, a hardware supply company, goes through drawers of screws, bolts, nuts and other fasteners as he helps prepare Isthmus True Value for its opening this week.

Isthmus True Value is only a fraction of the size required by Dorn but adds a key element back to the neighborhood where just a few blocks away are historic buildings like the train depot on West Washington Avenue and, on West Main Street, the former Kroger Grocery & Banking Building and the James Doris farmhouse. The hardware store shares space in the building with the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families, located on the second floor but Norman and Shaw are looking for a tenant to sublease another 2,000 square feet of space on the first floor of the building.

Isthmus True Value Hardware

Greg Norman began working at Dorn Hardware on North Broom Street in 1995 but is venturing out on his own by opening Isthmus True Value Hardware on West Washington Avenue. The Downtown Dorn store closed in early 2018. Since then, Norman had been working at the Dorn in Sun Prairie.

Norman said he has been thinking since summer 2019 about opening a hardware store in the downtown since the next closest hardware stores are the Quality True Value, 1201 S. Park St., and the Ace Hardware Center, 1398 Williamson St. He has a seven-year lease on the building and the same length for an agreement with True Value, which provides the initial inventory with the understanding that Norman purchases a set amount of inventory each year for seven years.

“I think it works because we know the clientele,” Shaw said. “We know the restaurateurs, we know the bar owners, we know the property management companies. We’ve established so many relationships. They know us and they knew us as a team.”

Since the closing of the Downtown Dorn Hardware store, Norman had been working at the Dorn in Sun Prairie while Shaw helped open the Dorn store in Verona before moving to the Dorn in Oregon.

Isthmus True Value Hardware

Jason Shaw with Wyatt, his 4-month-old redbone coonhound, who will be a staple at Isthmus True Value Hardware. The store is scheduled to open this week.

Isthmus True Value, which includes Wyatt, a 4-month-old redbone coonhound and off-street parking, has been coming together over the past three weeks. The $100,000 investment includes about $10,000 in refurbished shelving and peg board, purchased from a company in Michigan.

It holds the standard roster of hardware but also seasonal displays of snow shovels and ice melt. There’s also a small fishing section, since Monona Bay and Lake Monona are just a few blocks away. Plungers, a popular item among college students, greet visitors when they come through the front door.

“We know our clientele,” Shaw said last week during a tour.

There’s a paint section, plumbing and electrical fixtures and drawers filled with nails, screws, bolts, nuts and washers. There are power tools but no room for snow blowers and lawn mowers. The safe in the former bank building is home to lengths of PVC pipe and sheets of metal. The business will also cut keys and eventually repair window screens, install watch batteries and do minor electrical repairs on lamps and other small items.

“We’re going to have everything people living downtown are going to need and hopefully a few things that people not living downtown are going to need and will come to us for,” Norman said. “I just feel there’s really a need for a hardware store in downtown Madison.”

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