An accidental life

How a woman who didn’t want to set foot in a hardware store retires as a Lynnhurst icon

For decades, Southwest residents stopping into Guse Hardware, 4602 Bryant Ave. S., could find owners Marian and Gene Andersen behind the counter, ready to help. They’d chat about their children, their children’s children and find a bit of small-town familiarity in their own neighborhood store.

But after 27 years and countless memories, the Andersens have sold Guse and are retiring to Taylor’s Falls, Minn. In late July, the couple passed on neighborhood business to veteran hardware-store worker Tom Thomson and his wife Terry.

Lynnhurst resident Jeff Gatesmith has lived behind Guse Hardware for 15 years and said he uses them for everything.

He said the owners and staff are knowledgeable about old homes in the area and how to fix little problems that crop up. "They do have hardware there for the older homes in the area," Gatesmith said. "It’s more than just a hardware store — it’s a resource."

Gatesmith said he took an inventor friend to Guse’s to fix a creation. Within a half and hour and for $3.50, Marian Andersen helped him to fix the problem. "He was just astounded," he said. "He said. ‘Guse’s is a jewel every neighborhood should have, but doesn’t.’"

But Marian Andersen’s role as a hardware savant was not natural. In fact, she said, she was intimidated to walk into Erv Guse’s store three decades ago.

Own a hardware store?

The Andersens bought their Lynnhurst home in 1971, just down the street from Guse. Like many women then, Marian Andersen had a fear of going into a hardware store — which then-owner Erv Guse quickly put to rest.

"If you didn’t have a dad or a grandpa to call, call Guse," said Andersen, recalling the neighborhood saying.

In 1977, Guse (pronounced Goo-zie) was ready to sell after 25 years. Both Andersens were then teachers.

Marian Andersen left work to tend to their children and Gene’s teaching job was going to be cut, so he was looking for a new job. Marian Andersen recalls that Guse had joked that Gene stopped in so often, he should buy the business — and that’s what happened.

"Before we had time to think twice, we were behind the counter selling hardware in October — the busiest month," she said. "I’d probably been in a hardware store twice in my life. I knew nothing about hardware."

Shortly after closing on the deal — which Marian said wasn’t too expensive — Gene took a job with the Navy Reserves. So Marian, the neophyte, took on greater responsibility at the store, with the help of the store’s employees.

Marian Andersen said Guse also stayed around to help them figure out how his business ran, including keeping people’s store charges by hand. She said Guse’s generous spirit guided them about what they wanted their store to be.

Woman power

Ellen Gair, a four-year Guse employee, said she enjoyed working in the store and having a female boss. Gair said many female customers comment on how "refreshing" it is to have women in the store to ask questions. She explained that some older hardware-store guys aren’t as approachable.

Gair said there are not many women in hardware, and Guse never minded playing "hardware charades" — "it looks like this, and does this," she said, making motions with her hands.

Other customers such as East Harriet resident Paula Johnson, said she likes the store because of the little things the Andersens did. Johnson said she’s also been a loyal reader of the store newsletter, Guse Hardlines, which Marian started in 1985. The newsletters feature a front-page article of Marian Andersen’s whimsy, plus helpful inside sections focused on new inventory and helpful hints for projects.

Although Marian Andersen, a former English teacher, humbly says she could have written better, the newsletters featured thoughtful articles focused on common problems/solutions and even some well-written poetry.

Community support

Just as the owners have served their customers, Marian Andersen said the neighborhood has given back. She said her favorite memory is the community response following a 1997 store fire.

Andersen said some old recycled drill batteries had leaked and caught fire. The Andersons had to replace the entire smoke-damaged inventory, which took four months.

"The neighborhood just rallied around us with so many offers to help," she said.

She recalled a group of young girls in the neighborhood who tried to donate the proceeds of their lemonade stand to Guse to help with repairs. Andersen also mentioned two very young brothers who came in with their parents, offering the change they had collected.

Andersen said each year, once the weather warmed up, she always looked forward to meeting the new crop of babies. In later years, Andersen said she loved seeing those same kids come to work at Guse for their summer job. She said this exemplifies a closeness forged with customers that she’ll miss.

A new chapter

As the Andersens depart, the new owners, the Thomsons, are adjusting to a new business.

Tom Thomson said he’s a bit nervous stepping into a store with such established roots, but says he has experience and is diving in. The Southeast Minneapolis resident has worked at many Minneapolis and St. Paul hardware stores and is glad he and his wife were able to buy a store in the city.

Thomson said he likes the customer contact and helping people. He said he doesn’t plan to make any immediate changes and has kept all nine employees. He added that eventually, he wants to expand the paint section.

Guse customers and employees said that while they’re sad to see the Andersens go, they’re happy the new owners are committed to the neighborhood.

"We’re happy [the Anderson’s] have the chance to move on," Gatesmith said. "But we’re also glad they found new owners with a similar commitment to the neighborhood."

Marian Andersen that she’ll miss her customers, too. "It will be sad," she said tearfully. "It’s been my life."