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Wilmont Hardware to close, bringing an end of an era to small town

Vaskes say difficulty in getting inventory led to their decision.

 Duane and Deb Vaske will close their Wilmont Hardware store at the end of next week. Difficulty in getting inventory, as well as added surcharges and increased shipping costs led to their decision.
Duane and Deb Vaske will close their Wilmont Hardware store at the end of next week. Difficulty in getting inventory, as well as added surcharges and increased shipping costs led to their decision.
Julie Buntjer/The Globe
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WILMONT — Wilmont has been home to a hardware store for so long, it’s hard to say just how many years, but that will come to an end later this month, when Wilmont Hardware closes its doors and returns the keys to the building’s owner.

Duane and Deb Vaske have operated Wilmont Hardware for the past 17.5 years, but supply chain issues since COVID-19 and added fuel surcharges and fees have made it difficult to do business.

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It stopped being fun, said Deb.

“It was hard to get merchandise, and all of a sudden there were charges for everything,” Deb shared. “I said to Duane, ‘I think this is a sign.’ ”

The Vaskes took over operation of the hardware store from longtime owner Whitey Jueneman, whom Deb had worked for the 15 years prior. She liked the job, and when Whitey was looking to sell, the Vaskes stepped in.

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During the past 17.5 years, Duane kept his night job — on the overnight shift at Bedford Industries in Worthington. He’s worked there for nearly 40 years, and plans to continue doing so after the hardware store closes. The couple’s youngest son, Adam, also works the overnight shift at Bedford, and frequently helped out in the hardware store.

Duane said problems with inventory arose soon after the pandemic did, making it difficult to get in products their customers needed.

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“There were shortages of everything and it just kind of snowballed,” he said.

“It went from cleaning products to paint to tools — it was just everything,” Deb added. “I don’t think it was really anybody’s fault — that’s just what happened with COVID.”

Not only did they have trouble keeping their shelves stocked, but special orders proved difficult as well.

“People would ask if we could order something and we’d say sure,” Duane said. “We were told it would arrive, and then it wouldn’t show up.”

When inventory did come in, it came with hefty surcharges that made it even more difficult for a small-town store to compete.

“I don’t want to gouge my people because that’s not fair,” Deb said. “The big dogs get pallets and pallets, and I’d (order) three or six items.”

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The Vaskes announced their closure in early June, saddening many people in the community.

“Nobody likes it,” Duane said.

“They said, ‘We could help you out,’ but that’s not the problem, it’s getting the stuff,” Deb added.

Former Worthington mayor Alan Oberloh plans to rent the space, once inspections are fully completed.

After the doors close later this month, Deb plans to take a month or two off and then look for a new opportunity. She lost both her mom and a brother-in-law since March, and with the closure of the store, she just needs some time, she said.

“I will miss my customers,” Deb said, then corrected, “They’re not customers, they’re family and friends.”

“It has been a lot of fun,” Duane added.

The Vaskes, who both grew up south of Wilmont, will continue to serve their community in other capacities. Both volunteer with the Wilmont EMS as first responders and firefighters.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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