A legacy of problem solving at North End Hardware

This article was written by Ry Edwards

If Darryl Weivoda’s life was a movie you would likely see the baseball first. As the camera panned back you would see Darryl as a boy playing with his friends just down the street from his house in North Minneapolis. Then–just as you would guess–the baseball crashes through a neighbor’s window.

Seeking a fix for this problem put Darryl on a path to meeting the most prominent character of his life. No, not a girl. Not a mentor. Darryl took the measurements for a replacement window right up to this unsuspecting character born back in 1927 on the corner of Penn and Lowry and has remained there to this day. It’s a place called North End Hardware. 

Not since the Cathedral itself in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, has there been a place so central to a character’s story. North End Hardware became a familiar place during Darryl’s high school career where he met a young Miss Killian who would later become his first wife. Coincidentally, her dad was Joe Killian–the owner of North End Hardware. Darryl would also become good friends with his future brother-in-law, Randy Killian.

Darryl was working construction when his father-in-law encouraged him to pick up some part-time hours in the hardware store. Darryl immediately enjoyed meeting customers who brought him their malfunctioning small engines. He liked the challenge of troubleshooting the machines, but more importantly he enjoyed solving the customer’s problem.

When the small engine area was slow, Darryl was quick to hop over to hardware to assist customers. Darryl’s friendly demeanor and outgoing personality was a welcome addition to North End Hardware, but combined with his construction expertise and eagerness to help, Darryl’s customer service was second to none. He quickly gained a full-time position and after both Joe Killian and his son Randy finished their turns running the store, Darryl was naturally the prime candidate to take over.

Here’s where things really got rolling.

When Darryl purchased the hardware business from his good friend and boss, it became the epicenter for Darryl’s community development. He immediately took the opportunity to address a problem he had witnessed for years: parking. He purchased the house behind the hardware store and hired a professional to design a parking lot.

Then in a testament to Darryl’s fortitude, he worked tirelessly with the City of Minneapolis to get the parking lot approved. He applied for the permit in May. However, after six months of trying to incorporate the city’s “suggestions” for a different pitch or additional holding ponds, the city finally scrapped their 12 separate revisions and approved the original design. However, by then it was October, which means it was too close to winter to build. It would have to wait until spring.

This wasn’t the only time Darryl partnered with the city, but it gave him an idea of what the relationship would look like. Yet, in spite of the challenges, Darryl continued to show his character as he invested in the community with contributions including:

•     Buying the lot from a burned-down business and creating a Community Garden

•     Sponsoring the “Live on the Drive” summer concert series

•     Leading the Lowry Corridor Business Association

•     Helping attract the $8 million shopping center that brought the ALDI grocery store into a previous food desert

•     Creating the Harvest Festival on Lowry Ave in 2009 and later expanding it with Open Streets Minneapolis in 2012

•     Starting the Lowry Cafe in 2011 where they not only hosted karaoke and open mics, but meals with local politicians from the city council

Darryl has had to answer an innumerable amount of questions for all of his different ventures from parking lot designs to festivals to restauranting. Many of those expensive and challenging projects have now ended or changed hands and, thankfully, many of those questions have ceased. But as Darryl makes his way toward retirement in the coming months at North End Hardware, he beams a confident smile when I ask a question that he’s been asked hundreds of times over the last 40 years.

“Why should I buy this [tool, tape, tarp, or hardware] at North End Hardware, when I can get it cheaper at Menards or Home Depot?”

“Odds are, you can’t,” he says. Then he leans in slightly just as any passionate teacher does when teaching a favorite lesson, “First,” he says, raising both eyebrows, “be sure it’s the same quality.”

He explains to me that the parts carried by North End Hardware are up to code for Minneapolis– which is generally more strict than neighboring suburbs where the big box retailers are located. This is very important for renting because if the inspector finds anything not up to code, then you have a problem: you can’t rent it until it’s brought up to code.

“Then,” the eyebrows come down pointedly, “Look for someone who knows how to do the project you’re working on.”

He mentioned some different in-store marketing tactics he has learned about over the years that big box retailers use to make customers believe that they always give the best value. For instance, they’ll put up a big shiny case in front of the store that advertises Tarpaulin Tape for 29¢ a roll. You won’t find that at North End Hardware. North End sells a roll for $2.98.  But the difference is that the 29¢ roll likely isn’t enough to do the job. You might have to buy five rolls and carry them around; whereas, the $2.98 roll may last you five projects.

“Now, hopefully,” Darryl says, “you can find someone in the store who knows what you need for the project so they can advise you how much tape you need. Otherwise, you might have to make multiple trips back to the store.” He continues, “At North End Hardware there’s always somebody who knows what kind of project you’re working on and they’re happy to help solve your problem.”

Solving problems is a tradition that will continue after Darryl sells the business to John Guion. How can Darryl be so confident that the problem-solving legacy will continue under new ownership? John Guion has worked with Darryl at North End Hardware for 20 years building out the highly successful equipment-rental portion of the business. 

Darryl envisions himself continuing to work at the store part-time through the transition of ownership. After that, the only problem Mr. Weivoda will need to solve is: what to do with his retirement.