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Clark Devon Hardware, employee-owned store on Chicago's Far North Side, celebrates 100 years

Employee-owned hardware store on Far South Side celebrates 100 years
Employee-owned hardware store on Far South Side celebrates 100 years 04:34

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Clark Devon Hardware Store celebrates its 100th anniversary this month.

Some are calling the business a North Side institution.

The store recently reworked its entire business plan to become an employee-owned venture.

Clark Devon Hardware was owned by one family for 99 years. When they decided to sell, it wasn't to a new investor but to their staff. Now, a year later, the shop is proudly owned by their team of 65 employees. 

When you go to buy a can of paint or pick out a new drill bit, the expectation is rarely that the owner of the store is going to walk you through the aisles, restocking shelves, or helping to replace that lost set of keys. But at Clark Devon Hardware, that's exactly what you get.

"The former owners came to the management team, and they basically presented us with the opportunity to lead the transition from private ownership to employee ownership," said Xan Flink, president and CEO. 

Flink is at the helm of this new configuration. He and anyone else who's been working at the store for over a year are vested owners in the business.

"Many of us have been here for so long, I think we already felt like we owned a part of the store. I mean, we've spent a lot of our lives working here," He said. 

Everyone was given stock in the company based on how long they'd been on staff.

"For the younger people that are here, the longer you stay the more vested you are into the company. So, if you're to stay here for quite some time and retire it, it's a big future," said Christina Butcher, assistant manager.

 Unlike most retail jobs, working for the store is to work for yourself.

"Now, it's your business you're building. It's not somebody else's that you were doing it. You know, you strive to do the best that you can, so you grow in the business better and faster," said Jim Hurley, employee.

They've already been growing for a century and kept expanding through the particular expertise of their employees for a niche and essential clientele.

"Building engineers that manage high-rises downtown, building janitors that manage multi-unit buildings. Those are the individuals that we have always focused on. We're known for understanding our products, understanding the, the systems that are in an old building," Flink said.

 From plumbing to electrical, old buildings– or new, but especially old.

"The knowledge that is contained within the store is just incredible. You go from any department to department, and you'll find at least two people who have done the job hands-on," an employee said. 

"A lot of people that will come here from other stores and be like, oh this person sent us here because if you guys don't have it, nobody has it," Butcher said.

Part of keeping the business in the work-family was keeping those generations of knowledge around.

"Whereas if the owners had sold to like a private investor, you know, that culture could have changed very easily. And uh, now we have a chance to maintain that," Flink said. 

Though selling to the employees may seem like the obvious choice, in retrospect, they didn't see the change coming at all.

"The first thing they said is, well, there's good news, bad news. And so, we're like, give us the bad news. While the owners sold Clark Devon, and then they're like, but the good news is they sold it to us," Arreola said.

On top of partial ownership, the staff at Clark Devon said they have a great vacation, benefits, and consistent schedules. More than a handful of their team has been with the company for over 20 years.

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