Crown Hardware: A Neighborhood Icon

Jack Edelstein wasn’t even alive on December 1, 1957. His father was, however, and on that date he embarked on a retail/wholesale venture that would span decades, withstanding white flight, racial strife, and economic uncertainty. “We made a commitment to stay, when everyone else was abandoning. We just felt an obligation to the city and to the neighborhood to maintain a quality store that serves the community,” Edelstein remembered. Long after 1957, Crown Hardware and Plumbing Supply, 2016 N. Martin Luther King Dr., remains a stabilizing force in the neighborhood. Jack Edelstein shares proud ownership with Crown’s founding father (and his), Marvin, and a third partner, businessman Richard Stuckert. Jack is very clear about the reasons why the store has been in existence for so long. The employees listen to their customers, and offer honest, fair prices and good service. “We look for a way to say ‘Yes’ to customers,” he says. Most of the loyal customer base consists of contractors, landlords, homeowners, and just regular people who have a job to do. His employees know how to do just about every job there is. They are trained, Jack said, like members of a family. “When one learns, he teaches the others.” And so the training is mostly on the job. As with most families, the Crown Hardware family of employees range from vibrant youth to more seasoned silvery-haired salespeople. “You are never too old to learn,” Jack laughed. Over the years there haven’t been too many surprises, positive or negative, for the stable business. There have been assumptions made from the onset. For instance, the owners always thought that the neighborhood would improve. The improvements and the presence of other successful businesses has become a reality. As far as the locale, and any potential problems with that, Jack beams, “We really don’t have crime, break-ins, or theft. We really love that.” What is harder to love is beyond the control of the store, the neighborhood, and the owners: suppliers and vendors. He said that a few of them don’t embrace the same philosophy of good customer service and high standards that Crown employs. “Sometimes they tell us something will be in next week and it doesn’t come,” Jack laments. “That makes us look bad to our customers.” The store purchases and stocks everything from an extremely dangerous-looking, double-sealed “Clobber” emergency drain line opener, to plastic ducting for venting systems, to pipe dope for threads. Totally legal, by the way. There are even some areas of the hardware store so chock full of multi-hued, multi-sized screws and bits, clamps and lubricating concoctions, that it feels downright sinful to be in some aisles alone. Fortunately, there are enough salespeople manning the floors and counters that questions can be answered and nerves calmed even if you are number 81 and the current number being served is 72. Customers also serve as “Bob Villa” to the novice, leaping at the chance to show off their do-it-yourself savvy. If you stand around long enough, someone is going to help you fix something, break down something, or flush something — right in the midst of their own search for solutions in this “fixit utopia.” Jack explained, “We’ve got a pretty elaborate inventory, and fit whatever niche our customer needs.” Crown’s advantage and the key to their staying power is in the mosaic of supplies they provide to a mosaic of customers. Jack admitted that there are bigger stores out there with deeper pockets. But very few, like Marvin Edelstein’s store, have the experience gained during the coldest winter in Milwaukee with a temperature of -24 degrees in 1963. Nor has any other “home supply” establishment witnessed the civil and racial unrest spilling into the streets during the summer of 1967. And how many have the knowledge gained during the surge in a variety of hooks, eyes and rods for hanging beads and furry wall pictures during the 1970s. “We are here and we have been here, trying to do everything reasonably possible to serve our customers,” says Jack Edelstein. And Crown Hardware, with its new, eye-catching facade with the bright red crown, seems likely to stay right where it is, helping the neighborhood clean up and fix up and maintain and grow, for a good long time to come. Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30 am-5 pm, Sat 8 am-2 pm. Phone: 374-5100