NEW PARIS — It all started over the Independence Day holiday last July.
Fritz and Norma Weaver’s two sons came home to New Paris — Trent from Goshen and Todd from Arizona — “and they sat us down and said it’s time to quit,” remembered Fritz. “They were trying to tell us how to get out of here.”
Fast forward three-plus months and the long-time operators of New Paris Pro Hardware and Farm Store are finalizing the sale of the business after 34 years at the helm. They’re preparing for a new stage in life — retirement to Arizona.
“I would’ve kept going,” said Fritz, 72. He “never, ever” thought about retirement.
Norma, 73, has loved pretty much every moment — “I enjoy all the people in here, I had a good time” — and along the way, the store has become something of an institution on Main Street, one of a handful of businesses in New Paris. The store sells hardware, yes, but also serves as an informal copy center at times for community residents, and serves as a clearinghouse for information on local happenings.
“‘We hear you’re going to have the kids’ Halloween party. Where is it?’” said Norma, describing the sort of information request she might get in the course of a day.
But things happen, life doesn’t stand still. “There comes a time in life when you have to make a change,” she said.
Thus, Arizona — to a home they already own in Mesa (and have regularly visited over the years), to the year-round sun, to their grandkids there, to a life free of the day-to-day rigors of running a business.“This is just another change,” said Norma.
DIVING INTO THE UNKNOWN
The Weavers — still finalizing sale of the hardware store to Tim Spurlock, owner of Spurlock Body and Paint in New Paris — moved to town in 1971. Fritz worked for a silo-building company at the time.
In 1979 came the opportunity to take over the hardware store and the Weavers — originally from LaGrange County — seized it. The store, Stiver’s General Store in a previous incarnation, has so far been around 99 years in all, since 1914.
For many years, the Weavers — Fritz handling orders, Norma managing the books — owned the business with Hubert Bontrager. He was there one day recently, chewing the fat with Norma.
But it became a Weaver-only operation in 2001 when the couple bought out Bontrager’s share.
All along there have been many changes and challenges.
They survived two fires.
They cleaned up the presentation of inventory and expanded offerings.
Then they shifted gears, started ordering certain speciality items only when requested by customers.
Still, there’s a lot on the shelves at New Paris Pro Hardware — everything from conventional tools and PVC pipe to equipment for dairy operations and all-purpose electric motors. Spurlock, when he takes over, possibly by late November, said he plans to maintain the hardware offerings, maybe add to them — hunting and camping goods, more auto parts, perhaps.
That’s not a concern for the Weavers, though. With the clock ticking and friends and customers starting to say their goodbyes, it’s sinking in that they’ll soon be handing the keys to the place to a new owner.
A “customer appreciation” and retirement party open to the public is set for 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at Sunnyside Park in New Paris.
There are mixed, bittersweet feelings, a sense from the Weavers that they’re diving into the unknown. “I won’t really know what to think until it happens,” Fritz said.
But there’s no turning back now. Arizona beckons.
“We’ve got two (grandkids) out there. That’s the main thing,” Fritz said.