Brother and sister owners of store that started in Saukville, moved to the Town of Port weathered competition from chain retailers by selling a little bit of everything
Steve and Linda Boyea remember the days of walking around with big pocket calculators on their belts.
They remember struggling to hire employees and 100 people lining up outside to get a job.
They’ve been in business since 1973, running one of a handful of locally owned hardware stores in the area. But at the end of October, Stevlin’s Hardware Inc. in the Town of Port Washington will close. The Boyeas — they’re brother and sister — are retiring.
Steve started the store after becoming frustrated with companies he worked for as an electrical technician.
When he went to the bank for a loan, he was told to get a partner. Steve enlisted the help of his sister, who was looking to get out of the teaching field.
The pair applied for a Small Business Administration loan, but were rejected because they were middle class and not a minority.
They complained to Sen. William Proxmire, who pointed out women were considered minorities. They went back to the SBA loan rep and showed him the letter. The man told them to sit down as he processed the paperwork.
Stevlin’s began at the Ron and Jan’s Upholstery building on Green Bay Avenue in Saukville, then a fast-growing community.
“We started with totes on the floor. People came in and looked through them,” Linda said. “They were so happy to have a hardware store.”
Steve said people were happy they didn’t have to travel to Milwaukee for parts. It was a longer trip as I-43 didn’t come through Saukville back then.
Unmarried at 22 years old, Steve said he wasn’t scared about becoming an entrepreneur.
“No, you were a dumb kid,” he said.
He and Linda became much smarter over the decades, rolling with regularly changing economies and local business environments.
Stevlin’s used to carry wallpaper and even giftware. Once Kmart opened, the giftware line was discontinued.
“Our mix has changed over the years,” Linda said. “Now, 50% of what we sell you can buy at Kwik Trip.”
They learned how sales worked. People looking for fans in June would go to Walmart. By July, they were out, so customers came to Stevlin’s.
“So you get the sales, you just don’t get the first sales,” Linda said.
People have the idea, Linda said, that big box stores are cheaper. Steve said the same perception about Amazon exists.
As an example, Linda compared the prices of weed killer sold by Stevlin’s. One was more expensive than a big-box store, one less expensive and the third was different by two pennies.
In 1975, the business moved to 100 Progress Drive in Saukville. In 1998, Steve and Linda built the current 15,000-square-foot store on Highway 33 in the Town of Port Washington.
They divvied up the product lines. Linda handled paint, fishing tackles, plumbing and nuts and bolts. Steve took care of tools and hardware, among other things.
With so many product lines, Steve said doing inventory on a computer made life much easier, as did the bar code system started by the grocery industry.
Both have projects waiting for them at home. Linda plans to travel and do genealogy work.
“It’s going to be strange,” she said.
“The first thing I’m going to do is clean my house.”
Steve said he will continue to do his locksmith work, which he has done for decades. He said he enjoys going to businesses and homes, and sometimes he helps senior citizens.
“I realize they needed some additional help so I contacted social services,” he said.
Steve and Linda are looking to sell or lease the building. They said they can still order parts for customers.
Image Information: SURROUNDED BY THE thousands of pieces and parts they’ve sold for more than four decades, Stevlin’s Hardware owners Linda and Steve Boyea worked the front counter Monday. The Boyeas, who are brother and sister, are retiring and will close the store on Highway 33 in the Town of Port Washington at the end of October. Photo by Sam Arendt