It isn’t the money. It isn’t the status. It isn’t the vacation. But for four generations of the Kokesh and Kraemer families, owning and operating hardware and general stores has been the kin’s vocation. From Hopkins in 1903 to Long Lake in 2011, and in Wayzata and Glen Lake in the generations in between, the clans just kept at it.
It’s the love. It’s the hard work. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit.
Long Lake True Value, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary next month, is the two families’ latest venture. Co-owner Mark Schaefer, who is not next of kin, once mused along with his partner Mike Kokesh: “You don’t get in this business to make tons of money. We aren’t multi-millionaires living the lavish lifestyle in big homes with fancy boats and cars. That isn’t it at all. You get into this because you like it. You like the actual business part of it. You like it because it’s a hardware store.”
Kris Kraemer, 26, has worked in the family stores since he was 11, following his father, a co-owner at Kraemer True Value in Wayzata and Glen Lake, and his mother, a manager at Long Lake True Value.
“It’s in the blood, I guess,” he says above the din of the customers on a Friday afternoon. “We work as hard as we can to make the store the best that we can. We want to make it the best hardware store so people want to come in. They enjoy it. They know they will get the help they need.”
The Long Lake True Value was one of only five new True Value stores to open across the country last year. When they opened their doors in March, more than 87 years of experience greeted customers. Customers returned, even when the neighborhood Kraemer’s shop closed in Wayzata in January and the new location didn’t open until March.
“The first few months have been fantastic,” Kokesh says. “We’ve had a lot of customers. There was a time when people didn’t have a hardware store to go to. A lot of people had to go to The Home Depot or the other big box stores. They came back.”
To earn those repeat customers, Kokesh, Schaefer and a slew of volunteers, co-workers and other family members rolled up their sleeves and prepared the store for the spring rush. (Remember: Hard work is their ethos.)
“We set the store up entirely ourselves,” Kokesh says. “We built all the aisles, put up all the pegboards for all the merchandise. We had a good crew of volunteers, parents, friends and some employees as well. We hit the ground running.”
Estate caretaker Steve Goebel comes through the hardware store’s front doors nearly every day. He appreciates that the store allows him to find what he’s looking for, while being there if he needs help. They have those odds-and-ends fittings and fixtures he’s looking for. “They are an asset to the community,” Goebel says. “They should be patronized more.”
John Patch, owner of Wayzata Bay Realty, says his team frequented the Kraemer True Value in Wayzata for about 20 years and has welcomed their move out to the building he manages in Long Lake. “They are a terrific tenant,” Patch says. “They bring traffic into the center. They do a wonderful job servicing the community.”
Last March 14, Long Lake True Value opened its doors to about 300 customers from Wayzata, Long Lake, Orono, Maple Plain and elsewhere, Kokesh says.
“Our customers are very much do-it-yourself types,” he says. “But not everyone is a do-it-yourselfer, which is why they appreciate the customer service and quick location that is easy to get in and out of. That’s been some of the successes we’ve had so far. The trick is to keep it up and strengthen what we are good at.”