Rich Schauer, the owner of Schauer’s Hardware, took his star turn last week as WGN News took a shine to his positive approach to running the neighborhood hardware store in the midst of a pandemic.
WGN’s Mike D’Angelo had called Schauer in late March to conduct a phone interview. During the conversation, D’Angelo noted that Schauer sounded “like a personable guy” and decided to interview him in person. D’Amato came alone to the store, 7449 Madison St., to film a 45-minute interview with Schauer. His questions were mostly about how Schauer was dealing with the pandemic.
Schauer told D’Angelo he was the third generation of his family to work in the hardware business. “I’ve been doing this since I was five. It’s the only job I’ve ever had.” Schauer had suffered a blow in June, when his mother, Sandy, passed away. She had served as the bookkeeper for the hardware store and the Hallmark store the family owned next door.
“This is the first year it’s all me,” Schauer said, “I’m putting out all the fires.” He confessed that he hates paperwork and doesn’t have a head for numbers. He sees his role as being the public face of the store. “We are an essential business for the community,” Schauer said, “Customers are grateful that we’re open.”
Schauer’s employees are equally grateful. He has 14 employees and has separated them into different work areas. Some are busy cleaning the store, repairing fixtures and painting surfaces. Others are dismantling the now-closed Hallmark store. For the safety of his cashiers, the store no longer accepts cash. “We eliminated cash for hygienic reasons,” said Schauer. “The cashier doesn’t touch credit cards.”
Schauer also had to cut the store’s hours in order to keep his crew employed. They now close at 4 p.m. Regardless of these restrictions, “Business is still going strong,” Schauer said. “Stuff still breaks. People are doing projects they normally wouldn’t get done.” He noted that some customers are wearing protective gear. “They’re buying bleach and cleaning supplies. Grass seed is starting to sell. People are bringing in screens to be repaired.”
Besides homeowners, area tradespeople are also keeping the store busy. “Most of my customers are in the trades,” said Schauer. His customer base is primarily people from Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest. He also draws customers from Maywood, which doesn’t have a hardware store. He sees his store as a hub for the local community.
“The Chamber of Commerce has reached out to all the business owners,” Schauer said, “They have distributed forms for requesting relief from the government.” Schauer and his employees remain in good spirits. “There’s two ways to handle this: mope or move forward. There are no books for this. Everything’s changing so fast, we put out information on our Facebook page.”
For example, Schauer just received a shipment of 120 masks, which he is selling for $1.50 apiece. “We have a limit of four and still have some left.” Schauer belongs to a hardware association but his suppliers are struggling to staff their facilities. “You can’t fire employees for not showing up.”
Schauer’s remains busy thanks in part to the WGN broadcast. “The TV spot got a lot of attention,” Schauer noted but confessed he was too self-conscious to watch it at first. Some customers told him the segment had made them cry. “They thought I was getting weepy at one point when I was talking about my mom. I was really trying to clear my throat, so I wouldn’t cough on camera.”
At the end of the segment, Schauer encourages viewers to get out of the house and catch up with their yard work. He suggests raking leaves, planting flowers and vegetables and spreading grass seed. “This can be a really bad thing, or it can make our community tighter. I think we’ll be much more social in the future.”
The article was edited as it incorrectly referred to the store as an Ace hardware store.