By Brent Frankenhoff
After nearly 65 years in the Olson family, Amherst’s OK Hardware & Rental has new owners as Mark and Maxeen Olson recently sold the business to Mike and Mandy Garske who, with their family (Jordan, Jeremy, Samantha, and Aria), also run the Grit ’n’ Grace Restaurant since June 2022 and a commercial tiling business for 34 years.
The former Hathaway Hardware store was purchased from Alex and Edith Hathaway by Olson’s parents, Harvey and Sonja, on April 6, 1959, for $12,500. At the time, the store was an independent hardware store offering hardware, plumbing, and large appliances. Harvey was an apprentice plumber with Alex and obtained his master plumbers license in 1961.
The Olsons soon affiliated their store with Trustworthy Hardware, a chain based in Green Bay, and changed the store’s name to OK Hardware to differentiate it from the many Olson’s Hardware Stores. The “OK” came from a combination of the initials Olson and Krogwold, Sonja’s maiden name.
Living in an apartment over the store with their two sons, Mark and Terry, Harvey and Sonja developed their business, remodeling the store and apartment in 1967 and changing chain affiliations to Our Own Hardware in 1969. In 1977, they purchased the building and lot north of the store that had belonged to attorney Richard Olk and added 1,800 square feet to the store, nearly doubling its floor space. In 1987, a lawn and garden center was added to the south end of the building. A rental center was also added, offering numerous tools for do-it-yourself projects. In 1998, OK Hardware became an affiliate of Do It Best Hardware. In 2007, Mark’s son, Paul, added an online presence to the store with okhardwarestore.com.
Working at the store from a young age, Mark became a partner in 1979 and owner around 2000. “I remember living in the apartment above the store and coming down and sweeping and helping at whatever I could do at a very young age,” he said.
Reflecting on all the changes he’s seen in nearly 45 years of business, he told the Spirit, “The pendulum has swung from the majority of people shopping at small local stores years ago to a time when larger box stores took most of the business and many small hardware stores closed up. The last few years, we have seen the pendulum swing back as the shop local and small stores mentality has come back.”
Olson said that all employees will stay on with the store and added, “This is exactly how I was hoping this transition would go. A local family running the business with the same employees.”
Mike Garske said that the decades of family-owned business for this local store was part of what attracted him and his wife to making the purchase. He added that OK Hardware is the only independently owned hardware store in Portage County.
While he has no major changes planned for the store, Garske said he does plan to upgrade the checkout to a point-of-sale system to better track inventory. “We’ll continue to supply great personal service to the community,” he added. “I will add myself and my family to the business, also.
“All things considered, we’re very excited to have the opportunity to take over a family legacy of so many years and will strive to keep it as it has been. Thank you to Mark for allowing me and my family to step into that position and for all his staff and himself to remain working to run the store and share their many years of knowledge. We would like to thank and ask the community for their support, so we can continue to support the families that work here. And, a special thanks to the International Bank of Amherst for all of their help in keeping this business locally owned and operated. They made the whole process smooth and exciting.”
Olson said that, while he will still work at the store on a part-time basis, he plans to spend more time with his wife, Maxeen, and their children and grandchildren. He added, “I would just like people to know that Maxeen and I, my parents and all our employees over the years have appreciated the people of the community and how supportive they are to the community, the local businesses, and the school.”
New OK Hardware owner Mike Garske (left) and retired owner Mark Olson (right) toast Garske’s acquisition.
Left to right: Mark and Harvey Olson.
Left to right: Sonja and Harvey Olson.
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