MONROE, CT — Red, white and blue balloons and patriotic decorations adorned Aubuchon Hardware when its corporate executives, local dignitaries and customers celebrated the grand opening of the new store at Bart Center, 590 Main St., Friday morning, starting two days of festivities that are continuing this Saturday.
The storefront had been empty since Stepney Hardware closed last year, ending a 64-year run. Aubuchon not only brought a hardware store back to the Stepney side of town, patrons will see some familiar faces too.
David Otto, former owner of Stepney Hardware, is among Aubuchon Hardware’s staff members, and Chris Bassick, an employee of 32 years, is the store’s assistant manager. Mike Kensel, the store manager, said their presence has made for a smooth transition.
“It’s going to help us build our footprint and have customer loyalty early on,” Kensel said. “People were excited to see Chris and he would introduce me.”
Aubuchon Hardware was founded by William E. Aubuchon in 1908 and has grown with more than 100 stores in New England and upstate New York. The hardware store chain is now run by his great grandson, William E. Aubuchon IV, who was on hand for the grand opening of the Monroe store Friday.
Aubuchon said the tradition of the Stepney store, its loyal customer base and the visibility of the building along the bustling commercial thoroughfare made Monroe an attractive location for a new store.
“It’s a great town and a great community,” he said. “These are all things we look for when we expand. In a way, it was an easy decision. We’re going to be here a long time.”
Bart Center’s new anchor store
First Selectman Ken Kellogg participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, saying a few words and wielding the oversized pair of scissors. He said he was excited to see Aubuchon breathe new life into the shopping center.
“We turned the page with a new chapter, and here we are with a robust business to anchor this shopping center,” Kellogg said.
He credited Town Planner Rick Schultz for meeting with Aubuchon executives a number of times to resolve issues, while keeping things moving toward the July opening.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Kellogg said. “It’s an evolving process and we’re trying to help businesses navigate through it.”
To that end, the first selectman created a temporary economic recovery coordinator position to assist businesses reopening and operating amid the coronavirus pandemic, appointing William Holsworth.
Holsworth and Ray Giovanni, president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Economic Development Commission, attended Friday’s event.
“It’s really a big win to have them in Monroe,” Giovanni said of Aubuchon. “It brings jobs and added services to our town.”
Giovanni said the hardware store can also give the town’s other businesses a boost. For instance, its 15 employees may buy lunch at local eateries like Honeyspot Pizza or Mac’s Canteen, he said.
Kellogg said Aubuchon Hardware already has a relationship with Sippin Energy Products, the supplier for its propane station.
Glad to be back
David Otto’s parents, Chap and Dorothy, bought Stepney Hardware in 1960 and he worked there for 48 years, before deciding to close the store and retire last year.
“It was a blast. I loved it,” Otto said, adding now that he does not have to do the administrative work in his new role at Aubuchon Hardware, he can spend more time doing what he enjoys most, taking care of the customers.
Otto said coming back made him realize how much of a need there was for a hardware store serving Monroe, Easton and Trumbull residents. “We have products here you can’t get at a Home Depot or a Lowe’s,” he said.
Though the Stepney hardware store has reopened with a new owner and a different name, Otto said his parents would be very happy to see what they built is continuing on.
Inside Aubuchon Hardware, grills and fans were on display by the windows and customers perused the aisles, checking out shelves stocked with items like power tools, paint, electrical supplies and gardening equipment.
Though Aubuchon has a diverse selection, Robert Boshka, of Monroe, said he appreciates the fact it’s not a big box store.
“I’m very excited about this,” he said of the new store. “I was very sad to see Stepney Hardware close. Whenever I get something here, it’s quality.”
Boshka said he’s also happy to see Otto and Bassick again.
Fellow Monroe resident, Ralph Buzzard, was shopping with his wife.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I used to come to Stepney Hardware all the time. David and Chris were great people to deal with and I always found what I wanted. It’s great to have a hardware store carrying on the tradition of personal service in a local entity.”