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Family reopens Elbow Lake hardware store [UPDATED]

Published 12:03pm Thursday, December 6, 2012 Updated 6:48am Friday, December 7, 2012

Sue Kulbeik’s great-grandfather opened F. A. Johnson Co., a hardware and lumber store in Elbow Lake, in 1890. The company also served as the town’s funeral home. This week, Sue and her husband Bob opened Mohagen’s Hardware in the same location in Elbow Lake, though the opening was a little premature.

“We had a sign outside that said opening soon, but people would walk in and ask for a battery or a piece of hardware,” said Sue. “We didn’t even have a cash register or computers, but we let people come in and we just stayed open.”

The store is now mostly finished, and there are two full-time and two part-time employees. They named the store Mohagen’s, what the hardware store was called for many years after Sue’s grandfather owned it, and that is what most people in town recall the store being called.
Dubbed “Your Project Store,” Mohagen’s is a full-service hardware store, including a paint department with computerized color matching. The store also rents equipment from scaffolding and power trowels to carpet cleaners and extra tables and chairs.

Bob Kulbeik is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, and can help customers with everything from bike repair to screen repair. He also plans for the store to employ a handyman that can make house calls.
Another asset is employee Betty Mickelson, who worked for two previous hardware store owners in the location for 21 years. The new owners have relied on her wisdom with past customers.

“I told Sue and Bob I came with the store,” said Betty with a smile.

The Kulbeiks have been warmly welcomed into town, but what they didn’t expect was volunteers.

“People were so excited to see us come to town that they came in and offered to help out,” said Sue. “People helped build shelves, unpack boxes and put away inventory — it was incredible.”

The 911 tragedy played a role in Sue and Bob making a life and career change toward owning hardware stores.

“I was working in the (Twin Cities) and traveling a lot when 911 hit,” said Sue. “All of a sudden travel became cumbersome and a lot less fun. I was really ready for a change and so was Bob.”

In 2002, the Kulbeiks bought Hardware Hank in Ashby with Sue’s brother and sister-in-law, and also purchased another hardware store in Milbank, SD. A short-time later, Ortonville Economic Development Committee members asked the couple to consider opening a hardware store in their town, which they did.

It was a puppy that would ultimately bring the Kulbeiks to Elbow Lake.

“We raise assistance puppies to be Seeing Eye dogs,” said Sue. “We’re members of the Lions Club, and the Elbow Lake Club had asked us to bring our puppy in training to a fundraiser at the Elbow Lake Library. Many of the Lions were also on the Grant County Economic Development Committee. They came to Ortonville, and asked us to re-establish the hardware store in Elbow Lake.”

The current puppy, golden retriever named Dixie, has apparently been trained in sales too. She likes to take a customer’s hand softly in her mouth and lead them into the store.

The Elbow Lake Economic Development Committee also lobbied contractors for the new Elbow Lake Hospital to purchase supplies from the new hardware store.

The Kulbeiks have long-standing ties to the community. Sue’s family has owned a cabin on Pomme de Terre Lake for many years, and she is glad to be back in the area re-connecting with old friends. The couple have closed their Milbank store to re-locate and open Mohagen’s. They have purchased a home between Elbow Lake and Barrett, and are happy to be part of the community.

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