When walking into Gelzer and Son’s Hardware store, costumers are greeted by a smiling store clerk.
In 1850, Henry J. Gelzer opened the local hardware and dry goods store with two other business associates. Years later, two of the owners would sell their portion to Gelzer.
The hardware store was originally located by the Palace Café, but moved in the mid 1920s when they decided to move the store to its current location on North Howell Street.
Today the store looks very similar to to how it appeared at its founding. It is still family owned and will remain that way. Customers come in and the store clerk knows them by their first name. A few things have changed. There is no longer a dry goods section and the sports goods section was added when Walmart came to town.
“It is fantastic place to come and a great thing to have in the family, it is like the old mom and pop production,” Andrew Gelzer said.
Andrew Gelzer is the great-great grandson of H.J. Gelzer, and he recently moved back to Hillsdale after living in Connecticut and Washington D.C. He is working under his cousin Grant Baker who is the manager of the hardware store.
“I was told that I could come back and work at the store but that I would have to start at the bottom,” Gelzer said.
As he walked around the store telling about the history of how the store moved from being next to the Palace Café to it current location. He also said the store was first a theater.
“The hardware store used to be down by the old palace café and after the theater fire they moved the store down the street to a larger space,” Gelzer said.
He walked upstairs to the second floor where you can still the burn marks from fire that occurred when the store was still and theater can be seen. There also used to be a collection of offices on the second including an old storage and trucking company.
“The Gelzer family came to the New World in the late 1600’s after one of my ancestors was kicked out of England for hunting in the king’s woods, and by the 1700’s the family moved to Hillsdale, Mich.,” Gelzer said.
H.J. Gelzer started the hardware store with the hopes of it becoming a family business. The same is to be said of the other Gelzer family stores. There is the furniture store and the sports goods store, but recently the sports goods store joined the hardware store. Different family members manage each store.
The family did not just start new businesses in Hillsdale, but became active members in the community. Members of the Gelzer family have served as mayor and president of the city council in Hillsdale. They also actively volunteer around Hillsdale.
“Scotty was my grandmother, and just like every family she was a lynchpin,” Gelzer said.
Esther “Scotty” Gelzer married George Gelzer in 1947. She would help George Gelzer, the manager of the hardware store, at the time with bookkeeping and office management. She became a well-known member of the community by volunteering at the local library, hospital and with the historical society.
Scotty was dedicated to her family and this foundation of family first can be seen throughout the entire Gelzer family. The family is close even with members in Connecticut and Alabama However, the little town of Hillsdale will always be home to the Gelzer family and the family businesses.