Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Christmas at the hardware store December 17, 2020

Ace Hardware in Faribault, photographed at dusk on December 5.

WHEN WE SHOP at the local hardware store, it’s typically to pick up necessities for a home repair. Like last Sunday, Randy ran downtown to Ace to purchase a toilet handle operating system. I can’t even count the number of times he’s replaced this as Faribault’s incredibly hard water corrodes the metal piece inside the tank. My apologies to all you plumbing knowledgeable people for that amateurish explanation. But it’s frustrating. This time Randy opted for plastic.

Ace carries so much more than plumbing and other basic hardware necessities. There’ s a Hallmark card shop inside the store. And a paint center. And everything you need for grilling, including the Big Green Egg, although Randy will never deviate from his charcoal-fired Weber. There are tools and slippers and novelty gift items and…

When I photographed the lot on December 5, there was a wide selection of trees.

If we needed a Christmas tree, we could find that at the hardware store, too. Real trees lined a makeshift tree lot outside the front door when I stopped by on December 5. Currently all live trees, spruce tops, dogwood and porch pots are priced at 50 percent off. While supplies last. And, yes, we’ve been known to wait until just days before Christmas to purchase our tree. Not this year, though. Plus I’ve found my go-to source for Charlie Brown trees at Ken’s Christmas Trees.

The festive Christmas tree lot at Ace offers more than just trees.

As I walked away from Ace Hardware, I paused to photograph the blow-up Nativity scene above the store entry. I’ve seen Santas and snowmen and every other type of outdoor holiday inflatable, but never the Holy Family. How uplifting to view this little family staged there, in a place of honor, as customers hurried in and out of the hardware store.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My in-house handyman rocks & so does Faribault Ace Hardware January 11, 2013

OH, MY DARLING, knock three times on the ceiling if you want me, twice on the pipes if the answer is no…

If you were a teen of the 70s, like me, you may remember that popular song by Tony Orlando and Dawn. I always connect “Knock Three Times” to a slumber party in the basement of my friend Marla’s house. Don’t ask because I really don’t remember details. I assume we were pounding the ceiling and/or pipes as that tune rocked out on the radio.

The other night it was my husband knocking thrice on the ceiling or pipes as he signaled for me to head to the basement with my camera. He had just finished vacuuming around the non-operating water heater and was ready for me to photograph him in handyman action. His idea, not mine.

So my Canon and I rocked our way down the basement stairs while I belted out the only line I remember from “Knock Three Times.”

Tools and light are in place to replace the thermo couple control on the water heater.

Tools and light are in place to replace the thermocouple on the water heater.

Once inside the cramped utility room, I wondered how the heck I was going to photograph anything except Randy’s behind as he crouched low to the floor to replace the thermocouple on our just shy of six years old water heater. As you can see, I didn’t manage to snap much in the deep dark depths.

But what I gained was hot water again and the reassurance that my spouse is capable of repairing nearly anything in our house.

I hate this brown sink. But, hey, at least I have hot water again flowing from my leaky faucet.

I hate this brown sink. But, hey, at least I have hot water again flowing from my leaky faucet.

Say, about that hole in the dining room wall and the leaky kitchen faucet and the…

Oops, I nearly forgot to tell you this, and it’s an important part of the story. We bought our water heater in March 2007 at our local Faribault Ace Hardware. When Randy stopped by after work  to inquire about the warranty replacement part, the helpful Ace guy found the right piece and then told Randy to bring in the defective part and he’d get his money back. He didn’t even ask for a proof of purchase from six years ago. How’s that for great customer service?

We agreed that we likely would not have experienced the same ease in acquiring a replacement part under warranty had we purchased our water heater at an out-of-town Big Box retailer. Excellent customer service is the main reason we shop local as much as possible.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED similar outstanding customer service at a family-owned business? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling