A new Ace Hardware is moving into a vacant Union storefront.
The Cotton family, which owns 12 Ace stores, recently bought the 22,000 square-foot building at 1550 Denmark Road from Legends Bank for $900,000. The bank took over the building, which was originally an Ashley Furniture and became Johnny’s Crazy Deals furniture in 2017.
Tim Cotton, who owns the Ace franchises with his siblings and father, Bill, said Union was a natural fit because it lacks an Ace store, while Washington and St. Clair both have them. And Cotton’s Ace Hardware has been moving in this direction with locations in Cuba, Eureka and De Soto.
“That’s one of the things that we look for are towns that are under served,” Tim Cotton said.
Cotton calls Ace “America’s hardware store,” saying it is a different experience than a big box home improvement store.
“They can sell it to you, but they can’t help you,” he said of the larger chain stores.
The Cottons employ around 200 people and expect to hire 15 in the Union store. Tim Cotton said he is a “people person” and trains his managers to be the same way, wanting to keep a small-town feel.
Along with typical hardware store items like tools and paint, Tim Cotton said the Union store will sell larger appliances and a full line of Stihl power equipment. Other items he can’t yet say.
“They are still being negotiated by Ace,” he said.
The Union Ace store expects to have a grand opening around Labor Day.
Tim Cotton said he tries to get the stores completed as soon as possible.
“They tell us to have a year-long campaign to tell everyone we’re coming,” he said of past openings. “I tell ’em they’ve got 30 days.”
Tim Cotton likes the building the store will be located in, though he wishes the property was a little larger to allow for a lumber yard.
“I love being on top of the hill, not in a flood zone,” he said. “In the business world, you’ve got enough against you. You don’t need to go against Mother Nature.”
The family business started 53 years ago when Bill Cotton opened a grocery store.
“He started with $1,000,” Tim Cotton said. “He said, ‘That’s all I had. You lose that and you’re not going to have rent money.’ ”
In 1986, the family business expanded to Ace stores. Bill Cotton wanted to buy some grocery stores in their hometown of Columbia, only to be told he had to buy the hardware stores next door, as well. He liked hardware so much that he got out of the grocery business in the 1990s.
Bill Cotton was self-taught, even learning how to change compressor motors for grocery store coolers himself. Tim Cotton said the children learned young, delivering groceries at age 5. Even as store owners, they have been making deliveries during the recent pandemic.
The Cottons value their employees, and many have been with them a long time, Tim Cotton said.
“We don’t care if you start as a stock boy or cashier, we tell them you control your destiny, not us,” he said.
The city of Union worked with Ace on issues like parking constraints caused by its previous use as a furniture store.
“The city has been working for some time on marketing that site and similar commercial properties throughout the city, looking for viable businesses that would like to locate to Union,” Assistant City Administrator James Schmieder said.