The hardware store that German immigrant Adam Kroner opened in 1868 remains one of the retail anchors on Pearl Street in downtown La Crosse.
Today, Adam’s great-grandson Bill Kroner oversees Kroner’s True Value Hardware, which is marking 145 years in business at 319 Pearl St.
Although it’s managed by Bill, who is 57, he still consults the two majority owners — his father, Edgar A. Kroner, and Edgar’s brother, Jim. Neither Edgar nor Jim are active anymore in the store’s day-to-day operations.
However, “I see my dad every day,” Bill Kroner said. “I’ll run stuff by him.”
Much has changed during the store’s long history.
For example, in the 1940s, there were four other hardware stores within a block of Kroner’s. But they’re all gone.
Kroner’s survived the openings of discount stores, home improvement stores, appliance stores and the 1980 opening of Valley View Mall by finding a niche, Kroner said. For the past 25 years, sales of hardware to builders have kept the business alive.
Sales of hardware, such as hinges and locks, to builders accounts for about 80 percent of the store’s sales, Kroner said. Those customers are mainly within 100 miles of La Crosse.
The hardware store felt the recent downturn in new construction and remodeling activity for about three years, he said.
“But it’s started to pick up,” Kroner added. “Construction activity has increased in the last six months or so,” and Kroner is more optimistic than he was three years ago.
“The downtown is perking up a little in the last few years,” Kroner said, which also helps the family-owned business. More people are living and working in downtown La Crosse. “And I think Downtown Mainstreet (Inc.) is organizing more events” to draw shoppers, Kroner said.
There are still too many vacant storefronts downtown, he said, but new stores and restaurants have opened.
Walk-in traffic to the hardware store has increased in the past few years, Kroner said. Most of the walk-in customers live in La Crosse County or the La Crescent, Minn., area.
“But it’s amazing how many foreign people come in here in the summer,” Kroner said. Some are on paddlewheel passenger boats that dock at Riverside Park, some are college students, and others are visiting major local industries such as Trane.
Some of the customers from other nations buy electrical converters for such things as electric razors.
Kroner’s offers shoppers personalized service and carries screws, nuts and bolts that can be purchased individually, and hard-to-find small kitchen appliances.
The building’s high ceilings and old wooden floors remind shoppers of the store’s long history.
Adam Kroner originally sold hardware and stoves there.
But Kroner’s hasn’t sold coal- or wood-burning stoves for decades. And it quit selling refrigerators, cooking stoves, and clothes washers and dryers in the 1960s with the opening of appliance stores.
But there’s still a wide array of merchandise on three floors, plus the mezzanine, including hardware, power tools, hand tools, water coolers, snow sleds, outdoor equipment and toys.
Some of the store’s merchandise reflects the area’s ethnic heritage, such as tins for making the Scandinavian cookie sandbakkels and lefse grills.
“We’ve always tried to get as much American-made merchandise as we can,” Bill Kroner said, such as custom knives made by Roger Larson of La Crosse.
The store has three employees besides Kroner. One of them, Walter Marx, has worked at the store since 1946.