NEW RICHLAND, Minn. (AP) — Marilyn Meyer has worked at New Richland’s hardware store 45 years. That makes her its most-senior employee, right?

Not even close. That distinction goes to 87-year-old store owner Edna Erdmann, who’s been on the job 57 years and, truth be told, doesn’t want to make it 58.

She’s wanted to sell the place for years but, more truth be told, selling a small-town hardware store these days is about as easy as talking a dog off a meat wagon.

“It keeps me busy. It keeps me young,” Erdmann says of her career. But if you’re interested in taking her reins, operators are standing by.

New Richland Do It Best Hardware, under that and various previous names, has been on the 1,200-resident town’s main drag for just about an eternity.

The sign out front still says “Gambles,” even though that hardware store chain has been defunct for decades.

Erdmann’s husband, Vince, bought the store in 1954. He died in 1999 and she has been trying to sell ever since. Can’t compete with large home improvement centers and discount stores, she’ll tell you, yet the small business fills a niche just the same.

Exhibit A might be Tim Raiman, a local contractor who came into the store the other day to pick up a couple of items. He could have driven to Albert Lea or Waseca, but the little bit he might have saved on his purchases would have been usurped by the gas costs and the travel hassle.

So he whisked into the store, fetched his stuff, filled out his own charge slip and headed out.

Like many other regular customers, Raiman has a personal-ized pad up front by the cash register that contains his running tab, which is paid up at the end of each month.

Computers? The store has none. When Meyer needs to restock inventory, she gets on the phone to a supplier and punches in numbers to the prompts of recorded com-mands.

Barcode checkout scanners? Nada. Each item in the store carries an old-school price tag sticker.

Meyer says she, Erdmann and 30-year employee Belinda Gold are so familiar with customers they not only can iden-tify them by voice but by the sound of their footsteps.

Erdmann says her store is an outlier of sorts because hardware businesses in other small-area towns closed years ago. She’s in the store six days a week and “on call” the rest of the time.

That’s the way it is when you’re the only show in town and someone has a plumbing problem late at night.

“If it’s an emergency, they’ll call — ‘Edna, I hate to get you out of bed but … “‘ If Erdmann can’t find a buyer for the store, the day will come when she sells it out to the walls and locks the door.

But for now she says she’ll keep on keeping on, with Meyer joined at her hip.

Meyer says that just before Vince Erdmann died he requested that she remain at the store for as long as his wife owned it. Meyer says she vowed that she would.

“And I can’t go back on a promise.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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