Filbin’s Ace Hardware in Hazel Dell is going out of business, and the owner said the decision is the direct result of a new traffic safety median near the store’s parking lot entrance on Northeast Minnehaha Street, which he blames for a sharp drop in customers.
Mike Filbin announced the closure in a video posted to the store’s Facebook page on Friday, in which he was filmed standing in the parking lot with the storefront in the background, adorned with a large yellow STORE CLOSING banner.
“Today we begin our store closing sale,” he said. “It’s a very sad day for all of us.”
There isn’t a specific closing date, he told the Columbian on Monday – the store will continue operating until its inventory is sold, which is expected to take roughly six to eight weeks.
Filbin said he decided to close the store in order to preempt what would have been a slow slide into insolvency. Closing now will allow the business to ensure that its seven employees are paid for all of their remaining work and accumulated vacation hours, he said.
Clark County Public Works installed the median in May. It’s the county’s second attempt to reduce collisions on Northeast Minnehaha Street between Northeast Highway 99 and Northeast 11th Avenue.
The county first installed a median along Minnehaha in May 2018. The original version was a 700-foot-long continuous barrier that prevented all left turns, which led to complaints from both business owners and customers.
In a 2018 Columbian story, Filbin said the median had caused a 20 percent drop in foot traffic at the Ace Hardware compared with what it would normally see at that time of year.
“It was a train wreck,” Filbin said on Monday.
In response to the outcry, the county reversed course and removed the majority of the median in July 2018. But the damage was done, Filbin said – the barrier went up right at the start of the three-month period where the store normally gets its highest annual customer traffic, and the repaving work after it was removed took up the remainder of the summer.
“Through those four-and-a-half months, your customers make other choices, right?” he said. “That was incredibly damaging.”
In May, the county installed a revised version of the median that breaks the barrier into overlapping segments. Gaps allow drivers to pull into the center lane and make left-hand turns into parking lots, but the barrier still prevents drivers from making left-hand turns from parking lots onto Minnehaha.
“This one is half as bad as the last one,” Filbin said. “I don’t want to say it’s better, because it’s all bad.”
Customer traffic is down 13 percent since the new median was installed, he said, with the decline once again hitting during the store’s busiest season. That’s on top of last year’s drop in traffic, he added – the store’s patronage had begun to stabilize earlier this year, but never fully recovered.
Filbin opened the Hazel Dell store in April 2009 following an 18-year career in the retail hardware business. Filbin’s Ace Hardware is an affiliate of the Ace Hardware Corporation, a retailer-owned cooperative which is headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill.