The Story of Decorah Ace Hardware

The Story of Decorah Ace Hardware


by: Nate Furler, Marketing Specialist

There are multiple versions of cooperatives.  Consumer Cooperatives, like the Oneota Community Food Co-op, are organized by individuals that seek to purchase “like” goods and services.  Another version of a cooperative is a Purchasing and Shared Service Cooperative, of which Decorah Ace Hardware is a prime example.  In this model, the members of the cooperative are typically smaller businesses that have joined together to pool resources in order to compete with larger “big box” competitors.  This LOCAL business is anything but a simple chain.  Like many small-town businesses, they have a story to tell.

The doors of the business that is now known as Ace Hardware were once opened onto Water Street in downtown Decorah.  As early as 1928, Leo J TeKippe was welcoming customers into his store located at the current site of Happiness Is.  As you can see in the pictures, the storefront has changed in the many years since, as has the branding umbrella.  This Decorah business was originally a Coast to Coast, and remained that way until the turn of the twenty-first century.

In the year 1973, Jerry and JoAnn Aulwes were traveling through the enchanting town of Decorah, Iowa.  Jerry had always been interested in opening a hardware store, and upon visiting Leo’s Coast to Coast, he decided to tell Leo that if he were ever interested in selling the business to give him a call.  Soon after this acquaintance had been made, Jerry and JoAnn, along with their daughter and son, moved to Minnesota.  Not six months after the family had moved, Jerry received a call from Leo expressing his interest in selling the business and inquired if Jerry was still interested.  Soon after that telephone conversation, Jerry, JoAnn, Julie and her brother headed back to Decorah as the new owners of the local Coast to Coast.

Just seven years after taking ownership in the store, Jerry expanded the business to the location that now houses a StoryPeople workshop next to Radio Shack on Winnebago.  In 1982, this is where you could buy your local sporting goods.  In 1988 the hardware business moved to 110 Washington Street, and in 1995 it moved to its current location at 200 East Main Street.

In the year 2000, Coast to Coast was bought out by True Value and the brand was eliminated.  Jerry and JoAnn had to make a decision as to what to do next with the business.  Maintaining a cooperative business and also the buying power that the larger organization could secure was vital to the continued success of the store.  After much consideration, they chose to become sheltered under the umbrella of Ace Hardware, and the store has remained associated with Ace ever since.

For two years, Jerry operated Decorah Ace Hardware before finally selling the business in 2003 to their daughter Julie (Aulwes) Spilde and her husband Steve Spilde of Decorah.  When asked what made Julie want to own the business, she replied, “I wanted to keep the family business alive.”  After all, Julie had been working at the store since she was in third grade and standing on a stool to reach the register.

Four years after taking over the business, Julie expanded it to include a second location.  Based on Water Street, the Ace Kitchen Place arm of Decorah Ace Hardware opened its doors in 2006.  Inside you can find any number of kitchen supplies, gadgets, and equipment – including everything you would need to make Lefse.

Julie, Steve and daughters Taylor and Annie are proud to call their father and grandfather’s business their own.  Like Jerry and JoAnn, they enjoy finding ways for the business to contribute to the local community which they are a part of both as a business and as a family.  Currently, they are spearheading a campaign to raise funds for the Winneshiek County Celebration of Life.   The campaign is titled “Light the Town Pink” and is raising funds and awareness for breast cancer research by selling pink light bulbs to businesses and residents of the Decorah area.  If you wish to do your part in lighting the town pink, contact Julie at Ace.

This holiday season, Decorah Ace Hardware is working to make the holiday season a bit more “green.”  They are looking into having bins available for recycling old holiday lights, as well as being a source to purchase new energy efficient LED lights with instant rebates that will drop the price of a string of 50 lights to an affordable $2.99.  This will mean cost savings for the consumer at the time of purchase, and on their monthly energy bill.  Be on the lookout for more information about possible holiday light recycling, as well as fluorescent light bulb recycling, at Ace in the future.  On another recycling front, Decorah Ace Hardware is working to expand their service to the community by becoming a location that features Batteries Plus.  Not only will customers be able to purchase various kinds of specialty batteries at Ace, but they will also be able to drop off their old batteries for proper recycling and disposal.

The Oneota Co-op was recently a beneficiary of the generosity and cooperative spirit of Decorah Ace Hardware.  When we were looking to outfit our cooking classroom, Julie, Steve and the crew at Ace Kitchen Place were able to help us secure utensils, bowls, sampling items, silverware, and a beautiful kitchen island (made by Steve Spilde) for use at the store.  A big thank you goes out to Julie, Steve and the crew at Decorah Ace Hardware – in the family, and supporting the LOCAL and cooperative communities, since 1975.

Decorah Ace Hardware
200 East Main Street, Decorah
7:30 am – 6:00 pm
Thurs  7:30 am – 8:00 pm
Sun  10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Ace Kitchen Place
106 East Water Street, Decorah
Mon/Tue/Wed/Fri  9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Thurs  9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sat  9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sun  12:00 noon – 4:00 pm