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Demolition work began at 115 E. Carlton Road this week for the new location of H.J. Gelzer & Son Hardware Inc.

The hardware and sporting good company in downtown Hillsdale will move just a couple of blocks for a larger and more open space, more room for parking, and the opportunity for further expansion. In doing so, the company is investing more than $700,000 and a year in time to construct a new building with a grand opening next summer.

“We’re looking forward to securing the future of this business,” said Andrew Gelzer, the great-great grandson of the company’s founder, Henry J. Gelzer. “We are happy and honored to reinvest in our community.”

The expansion is indicative of a trend of recent investments in Hillsdale, City Manager David Mackie said, including from the industrial industry such as Paragon Metals as well as smaller businesses such as Rough Draft.

Mary Wolfram, the City of Hillsdale’s head of economic development agreed: “This is a huge statement of confidence in the city. A current business owner is willing to invest to rehabilitate a building and expand. They must think business is going to be good in Hillsdale.”

The company demolished a two-story building on the new property built by its previous occupant Alson’s Corp. on Monday. On the existing concrete floor, it will construct a new nearly 12,000-square-foot retail space that will offer approximately 30 percent more inventory.

A parking lot being built to the north, south, and west of the building will offer space for customers with trailers.

It also is giving some updates to the original five-story warehouse that the business will use for storage and receiving deliveries. Its 125,000 square feet will also provide space to expand in the future.

“We’ll have room to grow the business for the next 40 years,” Gelzer said.

The company’s furniture store, which has used the warehouse on the new property since the company bought it in 2011, will stay in the downtown.

Construction is expected to last six months from the demolition with an additional four months dedicated to building retail space and training employees. Gelzer said the new store could open as soon as June though more likely July or August.

Gelzer said the new location will provide a more convenient and open shopping experience and material handling like that at Home Depot or Wal-Mart instead of the “hermit crab” feel of its downtown store.

“Here, you don’t need a guide once you get the lay of the land, but when you first walk in, it’s a little intimidating,” Gelzer said.

Being on M-99, or Carleton Road, will also be beneficial, he said. It will avoid the confusing one-way streets in the downtown and the slow business days that come when the city closes down N. Howell Road for parades or other events.

“We’ll be in a convenient location and in control,” Gelzer said.

The building into which the store is opening has a significant history. William T. Buchanan & Sons Screen Door Works moved to the spot in 1895 and was the first screen door factory in the United States.

This move marks the hardware store’s second move in Hillsdale since it came to the city in 1921. It was originally located next to the Keefer Hotel building. It relocated to the store’s present location in the mid-1820s.

Wolfram said she has heard concerns from residents over Gelzer’s vacating five storefronts in the downtown. She said she is not worried, however.

“We can actually use the space,” Wolfram said. “We actually have a shortage of available of space for downtown stores. We don’t have many usable spaces.”

Wolfram said only a couple of storefronts in the downtown are habitable right now. Most that sit vacant are undergoing renovations, because their buildings are in need of repairs.

That is just even more good news for Gelzer’s Hardware.

“We’re a busy business,” Gelzer said, “and we enjoy great support from the city of Hillsdale and our neighbors.”

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Breana Noble
Breana Noble is The Collegian's Editor-in-Chief. She is a born and raised Michigander and studies politics and journalism. This summer, Breana interned in New York City at TheStreet, a business and finance news website. She has previously worked for The Detroit News, The American Spectator, and Newsmax Media. She eventually hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism. email: bnoble1@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @RightandNoble