Chester Hardware closes its doors
By GALE PIFER Contributing Reporter
CHESTER -- When Denny Benson turned the lock in the door of Chester Hardware Saturday afternoon, it marked the end of an era. People living in Chester, the surrounding rural area and especially those who live on Lake Madison most likely felt as if they had lost a dear friend.|
Emil Benson opened Chester Hardware more than 85 years ago. He was the grandfather of Denny. Emil lost the business sometime in the 30s, but his son Harris (Denny's father) soon started up the family business once again, providing the people in Chester and the surrounding countryside a first class hardware store. Darrell, Denny's brother, operated the store beginning in the late 1950s until 1993. Denny then bought out his brother and father and has operated the store ever since.
Chester Hardware was unique in that it carried those hard to find items not usually carried by major hardware firms. Farmers and especially those folks living around the lake could always depend on finding those items needed to make repairs on everything from screen doors to water heaters. Benson operated an LP gas business out of the store until selling that portion of the business to F & M Oil. He also opened a heating and air conditioning business, which soon began serving customers in a wide area. That portion of the business will continue, even though the hardware store will no longer be open.
"I've meet a lot of people over the years and have a lot of good memories," said Benson, "But operating a hardware store in a small town just isn't feasible anymore. My accountant has been urging me to get out of the business for six years or more. I would have liked to continue the hardware store, but the overhead in operating such a business just doesn't make sense in these times."
As dozens of friends and neighbors milled around the store Saturday, picking up bargains and sharing a ham sandwich, Benson said he won't really miss operating the store, but he will miss the people.
"Of course, we are still going to maintain our heating and air conditioning business, which covers an very wide area so we'll still be providing a service to those folks," he said. "I hate to see what the store closing will do to the local community, however. We always had a big inventory, but now people will be forced to go beyond this community to shop."
One of those visiting Saturday was Joe Mc Allister.
"This is really the end of an era," he said. "People in these parts have been accustomed to coming here for a very long time."
David Artko said he has mixed reactions about the hardware store closing. "I'm happy for the Bensons, but sad for Chester. We all owe the Benson family a great deal of gratitude for keeping the store open all these years.
``I suspect it hasn't been financially feasible for many years," he continued. "People here are most appreciative. I wonder just how many small towns in South Dakota would have loved to have a store like this in their communities."