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After 65 years in Newport, John Bartl Hardware store closing its doors

John Bartl Hardware in Newport will close in December after 65 years, owner Tom Bartl said. "Business is OK, but it's not what it used to be," he said. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Tom Bartl, owner of John Bartl Hardware, helps customer Robert Bay (right) find the right fitting for a heating system in his garage. The hardware store, which served Newport for 65 years, will close at the end of this year. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

For 65 years, John Bartl Hardware in Newport was the go-to place when you needed just one of something: say, a beveled washer for a home faucet repair job, a copper pipe fitting for a furnace, a float valve for a balky toilet.

And you could pay for it with pocket change. That aforementioned beveled washer would set you back a grand total of 65 cents.

If your DIY ethic included finding that particular part on your own, you could launch a search among the endless rows of bins. Or you could simply ask the folks who worked there.

Owner Tom Bartl and his staff were always on hand to help customers find the needle in the haystack. If they didn't have it, chances are nobody did.

“We have over 40,000 items,” he said. “If you want an 8-32 machine screw, I could go back and pick one out for you.”

Bartl will close the store in December. To help liquidate their stock, they are holding a Quitting Business Sale with 30 percent off.

Due to the changing retail climate, which includes competition from big box stores and from online monster Amazon, Bartl and his employees have to work harder for each dollar.

“I’m just working way too long and my workforce is getting older,” he said. “Business is OK but it isn't what it used to be.”

Three of his employees have been with him for 40, 30 and 18 years, respectively, he said.

The closure is the end a family dynasty that began in 1925, when Tom Bartl’s grandfather opened a hardware store in South St. Paul.

“The Bartls have been in South St. Paul and Newport for 93 years,” he said.

His father John opened the Newport store in 1953.

“Cottage Grove was just building up,” he said. “This was the first shopping center in South Washington County. Woodbury, when my dad started, was just a village.”

The beginning of the end came when Highway 61 was converted into an expressway several years ago, leaving Newport with only one exit instead of three. It may have relieved traffic congestion, but it made it tougher for first-time customers to access some local businesses.

“It’s progress,” Bartl said. “We knew it was just a matter of time.”

In addition to providing pipe threading and custom glass and screen cutting, they still make 9,000 to 10,000 keys a year, he said. Everything from nails to grass seed can be bought by the pound. Customers take what they need and weigh it on a vintage scale.

John Bartl Hardware is also one of the few remaining “five-and-dime” stores — they sell hunting and fishing licenses, garden tools, signage, candy, light bulbs, work boots and windsocks.

Bob Bay, a retired building engineer who lives in Newport, said he’s been shopping at Bartl’s for 40 years. If he can't’ find what he’s looking for, he knows to ask Bartl.

Monday, he was in looking for a copper elbow for the heating system in his garage.

“You want a tee or an elbow?” Bartl says.

“An elbow,” Bay says. “If you’ve got a tee I’ll take the tee.”

Bartl said he is surprised when he realizes the technical knowledge he’s acquired from years of talking shop with customers concerning their particular plumbing or electrical project.

Cottage Grove City Councilman Steve Dennis said he ranks John Bartl Hardware as an “icon” business since it’s lasted so long and is so closely identified with the area.

“Being family owned and dedicated company for decades, they helped to bring a unique level of service to the community that really made it special,” he said.

Bay was dismayed to learn the store would be closing.

“I sure wish someone would take it over because it’s a hometown hardware store,” he said. “It’s amazing what they carry.”

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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