46 Years in Hardware: John Lipnitz Marks Retirement

Published in 2015 by The St. Ignace News

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After 46 years and two business locations in downtown St. Ignace, John Lipnitz is retiring from True Value hardware store, and his daughter, Erica, has taken over.

“I was going to retire at 62. Then I was definitely going to retire at 65,” Mr. Lipnitz said. “I’m going on 76 this April. It’s time.”

The hardware business has changed a lot since they started, said Mr. Lipnitz and his wife, Maureen. Business was even slower during the winter than it is now, only a dozen paint colors were kept in stock, wringer washers were kept on hand, and the store’s best sellers were color televisions and furniture.

There were memorable times when Mackinac Island residents pulled newly purchased sofas and armchairs home behind their snowmobiles across the ice bridge. The couple watched the furniture “go bouncing across the lake” from the store’s front window, Mr. Lipnitz recalled, unsure if the purchases would fall through the ice.

The store doesn’t sell furniture anymore, but people still occasionally tow appliances over the ice bridge to the Island. Business has picked up in the winter in recent years, especially with the addition of rental equipment like power tools and carpet shampooers in 2007. Custom paint colors can be mixed in-store with more accuracy, and the only wringer washer left is a vintage model kept for decoration and, occasionally, as a place to put coats.

Mr. Lipnitz began working in his father’s Moran hardware store and lumberyard when he was 10 years old. One of his many jobs included driving a pickup truck among the store’s three warehouses.

“No one worried about if you had a license or not back then,” he said.

Mr. Lipnitz attended Michigan State University, where he majored in political science and minored in business before joining the U.S. Air Force. While stationed in Libya, he met his wife, Maureen, whose father was stationed there, as well. The couple met at an officer’s club happy hour and were married six months later in Moran.

Three months after that, the newlyweds purchased Gamble Store hardware in St. Ignace, now the home of KC Hobbies. They moved to their current building in 1987 for more floor space and more parking, and the store became a True Value franchise in 1985.

When their four children, Julie Lipnitz, Karen Cheeseman, Kirk Lipnitz, and Erica Lipnitz, could, they joined Mr. and Mrs. Lipnitz at the store. They sold film outside during Car Show and when they were younger, could be hired to vacuum the store for a quarter. Both Kirk and Erica have followed their parents into the hardware business. Kirk owns Island Hardware and Lumber on Mackinac Island, and Erica took over management of True Value January 1.

Because she started helping at the store at a young age, the work is “second nature” to her, Erica said.

“I grew up doing it, so it just seemed natural.”

Granddaughter Addison Cheeseman helps at the store, as well, working the cash register and using the store’s computer system.

Mr. and Mrs. Lipnitz said they’re proud of their family’s continued involvement and are glad to see the business continue growing. In 2007, the family built an extension to the building that houses offices, storage for rental equipment, and the display space for appliances.

In former years, the building at the corner of State Street and High Street housed the Red Owl grocery store.

Mr. Lipnitz is a member of the St. Ignace Lions Club, which he joined in 1972. He also served on the St. Ignace school board for 13 years.

“School board was very challenging, but it was a very interesting period of time,” Mr. Lipnitz said. Highlights included the building of St. Ignace Middle School and opportunity to hand three of his children their diplomas when they were graduated from LaSalle High School. Mr. Lipnitz also served on the Downtown Development Authority and the Chamber of Commerce, which named him Ambassador of the Year in 2006.

He hopes to travel during his retirement, although he intends to help at the store as needed. Mrs. Lipnitz will continue working at True Value until the store’s 50th anniversary in 2019.