Vicksburg Hardware: Big change to stay the same

By Alex Lee

For the past 35 years Vicksburg’s downtown hardware store has been run by Steve and Brenda Schimp. That era is coming to a close with the sale of the building to Paper City Development and the business to John and Melani Debault.

John, the son of John and Deb Debault, owners of Rise N Dine across Main Street, has worked in the restaurant for years and knows the downtown area and many residents.

Steve Schimp has been the man at the hardware store counters and in the aisle. Brenda tended to the financial side of things. The business has seen ups and downs and a number of changes during their tenure. The store was changed from a True Value store to a Do It Best store. They faced difficult times when the paper mill closed. They faced the Covid pandemic and rebounded with improvements and continued growth of the community.

“The paper mill was our number one customer before it ceased operations,” Steve said. “The closing forced a lot of customers to relocate to find new employment as well. Those were difficult times.”

“We thought Covid would be devastating, but the pandemic proved to be very fruitful for us. We adapted quickly by taking orders over the phone and delivering the goods to the curb to help keep people safer through those uncertain times.

“The Village of Vicksburg has continued to make great investments in our downtown and around the entire village, which has seen new business move in and new families as well. Steve said, “we have benefitted from these improvements and additions, making our last three years our best years.”

“We have focused on customer service and our small-town atmosphere in providing an experience that can be hard to provide in a massive building and a huge parking lot,” according to Steve, “and we’ve worked hard to make sure that personal service continues to be available here.” Flexibility is also credited with being a longstanding part of the community. “We used to sell a lot of small appliances, toasters and such,” Steve said, “but people now look for those elsewhere. New technology has made do-it-yourself projects easier, and we’ve stepped up in the areas of plumbing and electrical. We carry a wide variety of things from tools to garden supplies, and we have things like flags and signs that customers refer to as “fun things.”

Steve said he’ll miss the customers and the detective work involved in trying to help resolve issues with the proper parts and supplies. But he said he and Brenda are ready for the next phase of their lives. He sees travel in their future before slowing down and perhaps looking for different ways to stay involved in the community. “Brenda and I will never be able to express our gratitude and appreciation for all the support we’ve had over the past 35 years,” Steve said with a sigh.

And while the change is substantial, John and Melani Debault will make every effort to continue things as they are. “It’s not broken so don’t change it.”

John and Melani will share the responsibilities as the Schimps did, with John being on the floor and Melani handling the financial side of the business. John said they will have to remain vigilant and flexible as trends change to make sure that what the customer wants is what they find on the shelves.

The sale of the business was conducted through Paper City Development LLC. It purchased the buildings and business from the Schimps, and the same day sold the business to the DeBaults. Paper City will retain the building.

The Schimps had approached Paper City and its owner, Vicksburg native Chris Moore, in 2021 about buying the business.

“Chris and his team are doing an outstanding job restoring downtown’s old buildings, and he understands the importance of having an amenity such as a hardware store downtown, so I’m happy to pass the torch to them,” said Steve Schimp.

The sale of the building comes just over a year after the village’s Vicksburg Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places list. The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office informed the Village of Vicksburg in August last year that its historic district’s 130+ buildings were officially placed on the National Register. The Register is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Each listing provides a formal recognition of a property’s historical, architectural, or archaeological significance to its community and collective history of the state.

Moore, owner of the under-development mixed-use Mill at Vicksburg, as well as downtown Vicksburg’s Mackenzies Bakery, wasn’t looking to acquire the business or building, but he jumped at the chance to pursue the opportunity after being approached by Schimp. Moore has a passion for not only celebrating the Village’s recent designation on the National Register of Historic Places but ensuring that downtown has a vibrant business district.

“I’m not looking to own a hardware store, but I am looking to ensure Vicksburg Hardware continues in Vicksburg,” said Chris Moore. “Preserving these beautiful buildings in the Vicksburg Historic District that have gracefully looked over downtown since the late 1880s is especially important to me. I’m of the opinion that people enjoy visiting and living in beautiful old buildings in places such as our historic downtown. I’m delighted that Steve trusted me and the team by approaching us with the opportunity to purchase the buildings and business and I couldn’t be happier to have the DeBaults as the new store owners.”

South County Homebrew Supply, a brewing supply store located on the first floor of the 116 S. Main building, is not affected by this deal—although Paper City will become its landlord. South County Homebrew Supply is owned and operated by Dane Bosel, who also owns the local brewery Distant Whistle, which neighbors the property.

Bosel also expressed appreciation in keeping the buildings under local ownership.

“I’m glad these buildings will stay in local hands, and I remain confident that Chris and the Paper City team will do great things to the buildings,” said Dane Bosel.

Paper City doesn’t intend to engage in substantial renovation efforts of the property in the immediate future, but they do intend to make significant financial investments for interior and exterior repairs to help ensure the building will stand for many generations. That approach is like what they’ve done with past building acquisitions. Over the past few years Paper City has invested $225,000 toward stabilizing the 106, 108 and 110 S. Main buildings by replacing the roofs and spent substantial amounts to renovate the buildings at 101 and 103 E Prairie Street.

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