La Crosse’s Kroner’s Hardware pushing past pandemic in its own way

Four generations at Kroner's Hardware have experienced economic hardship; continues to withstand each test
Kroner's Hardware

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Kroner’s Hardware has overcome economic hardship more than once. Their sign is part of Pearl Street’s character.

“Nearly 150 years. It was started by my great grandfather way back in about 1868,” said Bill Kroner, owner of Kroner’s Hardware.

Bill Kroner is the fourth generation of a business that has aged well.

“It’s always kind of felt like home,” said Mark Flottmeyer, an employee of 27 years at Kroner’s Hardware.

Today times are tough, but Kroner’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather could say the same.

“This is definitely a hurdle, but nothing that other people haven’t gone through too,” Kroner said.

Bill has some experience with economic trouble.

“I’ve run through the mass exodus in downtown back in the ’70s when the mall came up,” he said. “That hurt obviously when businesses were leaving.”

Customers can find just about anything in this store except a bad attitude.

“Bill’s dad Edgar said when the 2008 downturn happened, ‘Well we made it through the depression we’ll probably be alright,'” Flottmeyer said.

Flottmeyer and Kroner say they are just happy to go to work. More than 385,000 Wisconsinites can’t say the same as unemployment claims grow in the state.

“I feel kind of guilty getting to work through the entire shut down,” Flottmeyer said.

The pandemic has forced several neighboring businesses to close.

“I really feel for the other businesses downtown,” Kroner said.

When parking isn’t a problem it’s a sign of a different problem.

“Every spot was taken,” Kroner said, describing La Crosse’s downtown before the pandemic. “Traffic of course has been less because of the other businesses not being open and people not venturing out like they normally would.”

Other business models try to survive on algorithms and technology. One thing hasn’t changed much at Kroners since we met Kroner and Flottmeyer two years ago, or the past century for that matter.

“You gotta do some technology of course, but the basic inventory…if you’re there every day you know what’s selling,” Kroner said.

Every item in their store is stored on paper.

“Computers break down but the people, well they can, but they usually show up every day and know what’s going on,” Kroner said.

Sometimes the status quo overcomes the test of time and the test of COVID-19. However, they are not afraid of change,

“We do a lot more cleaning,” Flottmeyer said. “We wipe surfaces down at least once a day if not twice.”

Their logic relies on the old cliché, “Why fix what isn’t broke?”

“We’re not out to be on the stock market index or anything, but we’re just here to be solid and reliable,” Flottmeyer said.

A trip to the store was a petty routine errand. Now it’s a trip people crave.

“They would come in and they said, ‘It’s been two months since I’ve been in a store,” Kroner said.

The internet can provide convenience, but it can’t offer a smile or friendly conversation.

“Being able to talk to someone besides the people that confined with them back at home,” Kroner said.

It’s these moments where a business owner’s resolve is measured.

“We take it day by day,” Flottmeyer said.

This is a family of economic fighters controlling only what they can control.

“If we all kinda stick together and look out for each other, just kind of realize there’s gonna be an endpoint,” Flottmeyer said. “We’re gonna get there as best we can and it may take time.”