Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Vevay's stock in history

Danner's Hardware has been serving Indiana river town for 161 years

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The snow shovels are gone. They've given way to grass seed, garden tools and other signs of spring at Danner's Hardware and Home Furnishings in Vevay, Ind.

Owners Anita and Mike Danner run the hardware store that has been in his family for more than 100 years.
(Steven M. Herppich photos)
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        But even as seasons change in this town 60 miles down the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Danner's doesn't. Not much, anyway.

        The lock still works on the original walk-in safe, built into the three-story, red-brick building in 1837.

        Seeds — lima beans, peas, green beans, corn and more — are still sold in bulk.

        Nails, sold by the pound, are still weighed by owner Mike Danner using a Fairbanks balance-beam scale, which he guesses is about 100 years old.

        And the store still doesn't have a computer, Mr. Danner proudly reports. “Not that we're not going to have one some day,” he says. “We just haven't gotten around to it.”

        No hurry. Service, it seems, has not suffered. Customers in this town of 2,100 still patronize the hardware store at the corner of Ferry and Pike streets, just as they have for 161 years, making it Indiana's oldest continuous retail business on its original site.

Hardware in the blood
        Ulysses P. Schenck first opened the store's doors in 1838. Americus Vespucius (A.V.) Danner — Mike's grandfather — bought the store in 1897. It has been called Danner's Hardware ever since, and has expanded over the years to sell furniture, glassware and gift items.

        A.V. Danner passed the business on to his son, Emmett, who passed it on to Mike, a soft-spoken, bespectacled man of 54. He started work here at age 19, after a year at Indiana University.

        As a young man, he considered a career in art. He dabbles in it as time allows, which isn't often. His painting of the steamboat America churning on the Ohio is displayed in the store.

        But hardware was in his blood. “I've grown to love it,” he says.

        Moss grows from cedar roof shingles over the store's Ferry Street entrance. Once inside, customers' eyes might be drawn to the high ceilings that allow ample room for displays of hay knives, corn cutters, lanterns, carpenter's planes and other antique implements.

        The closest thing to a computer is Mr. Danner himself, who buys the merchandise, arranges it and walks the aisles to note what's in short supply.

        Clifford Stewart drops in this day to buy a garden rake. He lives in nearby Florence, Ind., and says he has been patronizing Danner's “about all my life. I'm 85 years old, will be 86 in July. Always came here with my mom and dad. I like this store because you can get anything you need.”

        Maybe not always. Some years back, a man came in looking for a bone crusher. That request threw Anita Danner, Mike's wife, in part because the exploits of Jeffrey Dahmer recently had been in the news.

        “We realized we needed to ask more questions,” she says, smiling. It was for chicken bones, to make fertilizer.

        Anyway, Danner's didn't have a bone crusher. “But,” Anita adds, “we do know how to get one.”

        Customers often bring in items that have worn out, she says. “You learn very quickly never to touch plumbing things.” Toilet parts in particular.

        It's quite a change from her previous career with Federated Department Stores. Before she retired, she managed a Lazarus store in Louisville. Now instead of dealing with silk dresses and intimate apparel, she's ringing up sump pumps and WD-40.

        Danner's doesn't operate with the rigidity of much of corporate America.

        A week ago Sunday, a boy brought in a nearly new bicycle. He didn't buy it at Danner's. The handlebars needed tightening. Mr. Danner fixed him up, no charge.

        Soon after, the boy brought in a friend. Loose bike seat. His friend told him Mr. Danner would fix it. He did, no charge.

        “I guess you don't get that in the city, or in a lot of other places,” says Mr. Danner, who lives in a home with a river view, six blocks from his store.

Seeds are still sold in bulk at Danner's Hardware.
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Ties to town history
        Danner's is a True Value hardware store, which allows it to be competitive with the Wal-Marts of the world (the nearest of which is 20 miles away). But for the Danner family, owning a business has always meant more than selling.

        Mike's grandfather was mayor of Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee); Mike's father served as president of the local Kiwanis three times; Mike's mother was on the school board.

        Mike and Anita have held leadership positions in Kiwanis; Mike is active with Vevay's Swiss Wine Festival, an event he helped start in 1968; he serves on the parks board and has been fire chief.

        He is tied to the town, to the hardware store, and to their shared history. He loves poring over historical documents his family has found tucked away in the store's second and third floors, which are now used for storage.

        One well preserved bill of landing shows that a packet boat, the Madison left Cincinnati's port on Oct. 31, 1850, bound for Madison, Ind., loaded with stoves, pots and stove bottoms. Maybe it stopped in Vevay on that trip; maybe the crew paid a visit to the town's 12-year-old hardware store at Ferry and Pike.

        The store has been on that corner so long, you might think it always will be. But change is inevitable.

        “I'd like to keep it in the family if we could, but that's very difficult,” Mr. Danner says. He and Anita have four daughters from previous marriages. All are grown, and none appears to be headed into the hardware business.

        Then again, there are six grandchildren. And Mr. Danner isn't planning on retirement anytime soon.

        “We've been here a long time,” he says. “We plan on being here a lot longer.”

        Danner's Hardware and Home Furnishings is at 323 Ferry St. in Vevay. Hours from April to October are 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday. (812) 427-3535.

        Tristate Scenes is a periodic series of stories on the people, places and events that help define Greater Cincinnati. If you have a story suggestion, write John Johnston, Tempo, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330; e-mail: jjohnston@enquirer.com


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