Photo by Carrie Moniot
Brothers Bill and Ken Sweterlitsch behind the counter at the Coraopolis Hardware. Opened in 1888 and owned by the Switerlitsch family since 1927, the community staple will close its doors March 31.
By Carrie Moniot
The moment you walk into Coraopolis Hardware and you’re greeted by a friendly dog named Buford, you know this is a family-run business ingrained in the fabric of the community.
The business was launched in 1888 by H.W. Wickenheiser, who sold it in 1927 to Joe Sweterlitsch Sr. Three generations of the Sweterlitsch family have been running it ever since.
That is until the hardware store closes its doors for good on March 31.
Coraopolis Hardware President Bill Sweterlitsch and his brother Ken, vice-president and secretary, got involved with the business when they were 12 and eight years old, respectively, and their dad “dragged” them to the store to help unpack boxes and stock shelves.
Their sister, Deb, also worked at the hardware store for around 30 years.
After Bill graduated from college, he went to work for Pittsburgh National Bank for five years before returning to the family business in 1976.
“It’s fun helping people, that’s the best part about it. Helping people. And that’s what we do,” said Bill.
He remembers some rough times in the 70s and 80s when the population started to decline in Coraopolis. But the biggest challenge occurred in 1995, with the influx of all the big-box competitors in nearby Robinson Township.
“We just went down fast. We’re doing half the business we did before they opened. We used to have 20 people working here. Now, we have five, which is all we need,” he said.
Bill’s brother, Ken, agrees “There’s just so much more competition than there used to be and it’s getting tougher and tougher for the small guy to compete.”
Now, supply chain issues are taking a toll.
Coraopolis Hardware had the best year in its history in 2020, when the pandemic spurred lots of do-it-yourself projects. But, supply chain issues caught up with the business in 2021.
“Some stuff we couldn’t get all year long,” Bill said.
And with all the supply chain issues, there are almost no hardware stores buying other stores.
The new owners of the building at 1029 5th Ave. in Coraopolis, Kelly and Tammy Ulm, plan to live above the store and sell epoxy-coated wooden products, and hold classes and DIY events.
When small businesses close, there’s a big impact on the community.
“Small businesses give back to their community. They support other businesses. They support events,” Bill said.
But, according to Bill, “product knowledge is number one. And, we enjoy seeing people, so we’re always friendly.”
Ken agrees. “We offer the best customer service they’ll ever get. Plain and simple. Hands down.”
Ken said he learned from his grandad to treat customers with respect, guide them to what they actually need, and give them the best advice possible.
It’s that interaction with customers that both Bill and his brother will miss when their store finally shutters.
“I will miss people. Seeing the people. Being downtown on a regular basis,” Bill said.
Ken added, “That is the part I will miss dearly because over 54 years, I’ve made a lot of good friendships.”
According to social media posts, Coraopolis Hardware’s customers feel the same way.
“I will miss my local hardware…AND the Sweterlitsch gang,” Paula Jo Gialdella Ponticel posted on Facebook.
Bonnie Bernard wrote, “Thank you for being there for us throughout the decades.”
And, Jeffrey Bussard posted “Good luck and best wishes. I moved here in 1983 and your store has always been my “go to” place for hardware and ADVICE. You can’t get the valuable advice all of you had for us customers. Virtually no one does that anymore.”
How do Bill and Ken plan to spend their retirement?
Ken looks forward to “healing up. My legs are pretty much shot. Knees, ankles, shoulders. My body won’t miss it.”
Bill plans to spend more time golfing, traveling, and with his two grandkids, who live a half-mile away.
“I’ll probably get a lot of diaper duty!”