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By Danny Monahan Small Business Administration Vermont District Office public information officer
ACE Hardware’s new television commercial advertises that going to ACE is like going over to your neighbor’s house to borrow a tool.
A fitting commercial for Nelson Ace Hardware, where owner Bob Nelson knows many of his customers by name. In most stores, customers may know what section to go to for a particular item, but at Nelson’s customers know who to see, such as “Mr. B.,” Nelson's repairman.
Nelson Ace Hardware, located on Main Street in Barre, Vt., has been serving central Vermont’s hardware needs since 1983. It was started by Nelson’s father, Carroll, his mother, Sarah, and himself. Bob Nelson was a recent graduate of Montpelier High School who had plans to go away to college to study music when he decided to opt out of school and go into business with his family.
Thirty years later, Nelson ACE Hardware has been named the Small Business Administration’s 2013 Vermont Family-Owned Business of the Year. The annual award honors a family-owned and operated business which has been passed on from one generation to the next.
The business must have at least a 15-year track record with success in sales, profits, increasing jobs, having innovative business methods and efforts to strengthen family-owned businesses within the community.
“This award is as much about my staff as it is about the Nelson family,” said Bob Nelson. “I think of the store as a family. This award proves small family businesses can have a major impact on economy and community, and encourage more entrepreneurs like ourselves.”
Nelson also said much of the store’s success is owed to his wife, Linda.
“It’s tough being a business owner because you are responsible for it 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Nelson. “Linda has been tremendously supportive, the store doesn’t thrive without her.”
The Ace Hardware Vermont and New Hampshire district manager believes Nelson is the perfect recipient for the award.
“Spend some time in Nelson’s with Bob and his team and you get a true sense of what a family-owned business is,” said Liz Jackson,
Ace Hardware Vermont and New Hampshire district manager. “Nelson Ace Hardware provides more than a job for its employees. It provides opportunity, guidance and a respectful work environment.”
Throughout its 30 years, Nelson’s has had employees who have been with the business for more than 20 years, as well as numerous high school and college students.
“So many people have gotten their start here,” said Bob Nelson. “We try to teach them to take pride in what they do and give them skills they can use in college, career and their lives. It’s very gratifying to see them grow up and succeed in life.”
In addition to owning a hardware store, Bob Nelson is also the president of the Barre Partnership. According to its website, the partnership is a local nonprofit organization committed to improving civic pride and the economic, social and cultural quality of life in downtown Barre.
“Barre is very important to me,” said Bob Nelson. “We have a lot of new companies coming here and there will be a few hundred jobs created over the next few months. Nelson’s Hardware is going to be a part of Barre’s renaissance.”
Since its inception, Nelson’s has more than doubled in size, growing from 3,500 square feet in 1983 to 8,200 feet today, and has future plans to expand.
“In one way or another, Nelson Ace Hardware will continue to grow,” said Bob Nelson. “Maybe we will expand this store or maybe open up a new one. Who knows? As Tom Petty says, ‘the future is wide open.’”