BLACK RIVER FALLS — Moe Hardware Hank & Sporting Goods in downtown Black River Falls has survived by changing with the times, in the 120 years that it’s been owned by the Moe family.
When Bill Moe and his wife, Sally, bought the business from his father, Alvin Moe, in 1976, hardware accounted for about 90 percent of the store’s sales and sporting goods for about 10 percent.
Forty years later, sporting goods account for about 70 percent of the store’s sales, while hardware accounts for about 30 percent, Bill Moe said. “We’ve tried to find niches,” he added.
In the past 20 years, the store has become best known for its large inventory of guns, Moe said. It’s also known for large inventories in general, as well as its large selections of bird seed and deer feeding supplies.
Moe Hardware Hank & Sporting Goods has about 3,000 new guns in stock, as well as 200 to 300 used guns, Moe estimated.
When he and Sally bought the business, Moe said, it had a small selection of sporting goods, including guns. He immediately began expanding the sporting goods part of the business.
“I wanted to get sales volume up for the store,” Moe said. “And I thought if a guy came in here to buy a gun, he also would buy something else. There’s always add-on sales.”
As for hardware inventory, Moe said, “We always look at new products and try to get in on the cutting edge. You’ve got to know when to get in and when to get out” of carrying a particular hardware product.
He learns about new products partly by attending two Hardware Hank shows each year.
The Black River Falls store has been at its current location, 33 Main St., since Bill and Sally Moe moved into it in 1989.
The hardware business began in the 1850s. It’s been in the Moe family since Bill’s grandfather, Peter Moe, became majority owner in 1896 and renamed it Moe Hardware. Peter Moe had come to the United States from Norway in 1880 and began working at the store in 1883.
With his death in 1947, his sons Alvin and Rollin inherited the business. Rollin died in 1974, and current owners Bill and Sally Moe bought the business from Alvin in 1976. It’s been part of the Hardware Hank retailer-owned hardware cooperative since 1977.
Bill and Sally’s son, Pete Moe, works at the store and soon will take over the business from his parents. “By the end of the year, I hope,” Bill Moe added. “I’ll probably end up staying here” and working part time after that.
Pete has been working at the family’s store for the past 10 years; before that, he worked at the Ace Hardware distribution center in La Crosse.
“He’s very meticulous about keeping things on order,” Bill Moe said of Pete. “He’s very well liked and doesn’t have a short fuse.”
Bill Moe, who celebrated his 67th birthday last week, said he has been working about 70 hours a week at the hardware and sporting goods store and would like to cut back to perhaps 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. five days a week.
“Then I could have my afternoons off,” he said, and have more time to spend with family and other things. “I’ve been so dedicated to the store that I haven’t really developed any hobbies,” he said. “I play a little golf and I do like to travel. I’d also like to do volunteer work” when he has more time available.
Bill Moe also enjoys history.
In fact, that’s what he taught from 1971 to 1975 at Antigo High School in Antigo, Wis., after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1971.
His uncle Rollin died while Bill was still teaching in Antigo. That’s when Bill’s father, Alvin, told Bill that he wanted to retire as soon as Bill could tell him whether he wanted to take over the family hardware business.
“Sally and I had just gotten married and talked it over,” Bill Moe recalled. He decided to leave teaching and return to the family’s hardware store partly for financial reasons. “And I wanted to come back to Black River, and loved the hardware business,” he added.