“My grandfather opened the store in 1950, my dad bought it in 1970, and I bought it in 2000,” says owner Aaron Lutz, 38, who has been working in the store since age five.
The hardware store in the middle of downtown Camas carries a little of everything, and on a recent sunny day, town residents were showing up in force to get supplies for yard and home projects put off during the long winter and wet spring.
Lutz says the personal touch is what brings generations of customers back to the store, time and time again.
“We’ll do anything anyone wants done. We’ll find any tool or part you want found,” he boasts.
Though it’s now part of the Do It Best chain of cooperative hardware and home improvement stores, Lutz Hardware is still independently owned and operated.
In a unique twist, Lutz also offers Camas an exotic collection of international soft drinks, with packs of them lining an entire rack just inside the front door.
“Where else can you find energy drinks from the Middle East, or Brazil?” says Lutz. “My real secret to success though, is my crew. We have 12 employees, some of whom have been here 30 years, and we once had one for 45 years. We have multiple generations.”
“Working here keeps me out of my wife’s hair, and I like seeing people I know, and former students, too,” explains retired teacher and current Lutz Hardware employee Bert Brumbaugh. “It’s a fun place to work.”
In any Internet search for Lutz Hardware, potential customers will find no shortage of rave reviews on every site imaginable, from Yahoo to Yelp. Lutz Hardware’s own website (www.lutzhardware.doitbest.com) taps into the buying network of more than 4,000 members of Do It Best.
Face-to-face networking comes naturally to Lutz, a died-in-the-wool business man deeply tied to his community. The former Eagle Scout and current assistant scout master for two local Boy Scout troops was a one-time captain of the Camas High School football team. He is also an active Mason.
“I’m thinking about Rotary,” he notes.
Lutz’s store occupies a building constructed in 1904. The building comes with plenty of secrets, including the only remaining legal, hand-cranked elevator in the state of Washington, which carries supplies from the basement storeroom to the main shop floor, and into the office on the upper floor.
“We dug through part of the wall of our basement, and found this 112-year-old mortuary,” Lutz adds with a grin. “It expanded our storage area. I keep everything.”
In an outside storage area sit the wheeled bathtubs for the long-standing tradition of Camas Days Tub Races, sponsored since the 1970s by Lutz Hardware.
As Aaron Lutz watered many flower baskets created by his mother, grandmother and aunt, to be donated as decorations for the downtown Camas light posts, Lutz muses, “I have the best job in the world, bar none. When I work 10, 12, 14 hour days, I am happy as a clam!”
In the future, Lutz may expand his network into more stores currently owned by other family members in Portland.