Submitted by Chesaning Ace Hardware
TWO GENERATIONS of Greenfelders are paused Thursday morning in front of Chesaning Ace Hardware as it is today. Owner Joe Greenfelder (fifth generation) is with his two sons (sixth generation), Brendan (left), who is 15, and Reese (right), 10. Both boys work alongside their dad in the store. The business will celebrate 135 years 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 26, with a Customer Appreciation Day, including food, beverages, bounce houses for youngsters and a drawing for prizes. They are also asking for any former employees of the business to share information about their times of service, either at the store or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. (Independent Photo/MELISSA SHEPARD)
In the 1870s John Peter “JP” Adelman and Margaret (Cromling) Greenfelder moved to the Chesaning area from Ohio. JP ordered farm equipment for his farm from contacts in Ohio and had them shipped to Chesaning. Word spread around the Chesaning area that JP did this and other farmers were soon asking him to get equipment for them as well. In 1880 Frank and Theodore (known as Theo) Greenfelder,
the oldest of the Greenfelder children, started Greenfelder and Co. in a small shed next to the Shiawassee River on what is now M-57 and sold farm equipment and buggies using JP’s contacts.
Frank left the business to his brother Theo and his stepfather JP to run, while he moved on to start other businesses. Theo and JP grew the business over the years and soon it was large enough to occupy the space from the river to modern day Front Street. The business name changed to Chesaning Hardware and Implement Co. Some of the brand names they carried included McCormick, Deering, John Deere, Studebaker and Ford implements; eventually they became the first Ford dealership in this area.
JP and Margaret had two children together. Bert, the eldest, grew up in the business and managed the store in place of JP. Theo was not interested in managing, but excelled at sales. The company had many investors, although Theo and Bert were the primary stockholders. Another Adelman son from JP’s first marriage, Louie, was the mechanical genius of the establishment, in charge of assembly and repair.
Around 1913, the business was primarily Ford and McCormick. Henry Ford and Cyrus McCormick were rivals and Ford had demanded that both could not be in the same building. Theo took McCormick (International Harvester) with Bert and Louie one block west and on the other side of M-57 (the current location) and renamed that half of the business Chesaning Garage.
Further conflicts with Ford made incorporation necessary to show a separation. In 1916, the business was incorporated and named Chesaning Sales Company with Bert Adelman and Theo Greenfelder partners. Chesaning Garage remained its common name until about 1926. Chesaning Hardware and Implements stayed with the other investors.
Theodore had two children with his wife Josephine (Wickham), a son and daughter. The son, Fred worked as an electrician and was the first refrigeration repairman in Chesaning. He wired many of the homes in the Chesaning area. Fred had little interest in the hardware business so his wife Madeline (Hafner) took an active role in the business doing the books. In 1948, Theodore passed away and his portion transferred to his wife. Fred and Madeline (Hafner) Greenfelder had three children: James, Richard and JoAnn.
Rich began working in the store and helped manage with his mother after he and Madeline bought Josephine’s shares of the business. In 1953, Richard was drafted into the army and returned in 1955. At that time the business was almost bankrupt. Rich convinced Bert to add more hardware to the business. Bert was not convinced but let Rich do what he wanted as long as he paid and did the work. Bert had controlling interest.
The 1950s saw the end of the implement sales and Rich added Morley Brothers Trustworthy Hardware out of Saginaw as a supplier. He also added ITCO, a farm parts supplier for the continuing tractor repairs.
Rich and Madeline tried for years to purchase Bert’s stock since his children were not interested in the business. Finally Bert consented on a sales agreement when he died. He passed in 1974 and the sale was completed.
Jim Greenfelder did not work in the business much when he was young. After he served in the military he worked for a company that later became NASA. Rich convinced Jim to come back and help with the business. He primarily was a repairman, enjoying radio repair the most. When Rich opened walls up within the building for more visibility Jim was not comfortable with direct customer service and left to work for GM.
Rich bought out his mother and eventually his brother and sister to become sole owner of Chesaning Sales Co. Rich and LuAnn (Bennet) have 9 children: Sue, Pat, John (deceased), Kent, Dennis, Mike, Joe, Kris and Ann. All of the children worked in the store in one way or another.
ITCO eventually was dropped as a supplier and the tractor repair and parts were no more. The hardware was all that was left. Morley Brothers went bankrupt in the late 1970s. George Worthington “Sentry Hardware” one of the oldest companies in the U.S. at that time, became the brand. In the 1980s Sentry hit hard times and after the second bankruptcy Rich started looking for other suppliers. Ace Hardware, a growing co-op, approached Rich with an opportunity to grow. In 1991 Chesaning Sales Co.
became Chesaning Ace Hardware. At the same time Chesaning Sales joined Ace Hardware, Rich closed his garage located behind the store that was used as the first drive-through hardware anyone knows of. He then built on an additional 2,000 square feet to the sales floor.
In the mid 1980s Rich bought an apartment building next door. Years later the apartments on the ground floor became Designs by Bean and Greenfelder Law Office. In 1995, Rich built a new building behind the apartment for the two businesses his children started. The original building was sold and moved. He then purchased the office of Richard Schultz MD, sold the building, and it was moved to make one large parking lot.
Rich purchased the former dry cleaners and barbershop building that was connected to the south end of Ace Hardware. In 2000, he knocked the dry cleaners building down and added a 30- by 60-foot expansion to Ace Hardware and started the process of transferring ownership of Chesaning Sales Co. to his son Joseph and his wife Lisa (Sweet).
In 2002, a barn on the south side of the property was taken down and a new 50- by 60-foot storage building was constructed.
Since Rich took over the family business it has grown tremendously. He added 8,000 square feet of selling space and has recorded sales increases in sales nearly every year.
Rich Greenfelder continued the business creation. His faith in his children was proven when his daughter-in-law Laura started a sewing business in an empty apartment and his son Mike took over a silk screening business they later combined with Kris Greenfelder (also known as Bean) joining them to create Designs by Bean.
Patrick Greenfelder was ready to leave Chicago and the large law firm lifestyle. After working in a couple of firms in Michigan he started Greenfelder Law Office in an adjacent apartment from Designs by Bean. In 1997, Kent Greenfelder left a career in physical fitness to pursue a law degree. He joined the Greenfelder Law Office.
Mike Greenfelder bought out Laura and then Kris to become sole owner of Designs by Bean and Ann Greenfelder joined Mike in the business and runs the store and embroidery.
In 2005, Laura Greenfelder (Kent’s wife), an avid quilter and scrapbooker, decided to start a new business. Creative Passions Crop and Quilt Retreat. She is currently transforming The “Peet House” on Chesaning’s Boulevard into her third location in Chesaning.
All of these businesses credit Rich with their inception. Currently the fifth and sixth generations are working in the store. Rich has retired, for health reasons, or he would be helping customers today. Brian Neumeyer is a trusted, loyal employee who will celebrate 40 years of service in 2016 and Mike Rowe has ten years of service and counting. Joe and Lisa have three children Brendan, 15, Claire, 12, and Reese, 10. Brendan works five days a week after school and sports responsibilities. Claire and Reese come in often and help customers purchase their items on the new computer system. Many nieces and nephews of Joe have worked in the store.