By Cathy B. Koplen
The Daily Star
---- — Just off Exit 16 in Oneona is a handyman’s dream of a store, housing nearly 20,000 square feet of building supplies.
Munson True Value is an old-fashioned hardware store filled with modern supplies for contractors and do-it-yourself homeowners.
The Munson family, now in its third generation of Munson True Value employees, has been in business since 1964.
“We have seen the community steadily grow,” said Steve Munson, part owner of the hardware store.
But the recent downturn in the economy hit the construction business particularly hard. Nationwide, building starts were at an all-time low. With many fighting to save their homes from foreclosure, renovations and home-improvement projects took a back seat.
“We have seen the ups and downs of the construction business, but this last downturn, with the banking industry failing, was one of the worst I have ever seen,” Munson said. “But in the last 12 months or so, we have seen business improve.”
The store’s 1,200 accounts represent contractors, carpenters and home improvement businesses throughout the region. The store sells a wide variety of building supplies, from freshly ripped boards and penny nails to Andersen windows and doors.
Munson True Value began life as a skating rink when Munson’s father, Fred Munson, constructed the building in 1956 as a part-time business for weekend fun. At the time, he also worked for a contractor, who persuaded him to turn the skating rink into to a lumber yard.
The original building, which burned down in 1972, was 6,000 square feet and offered far fewer amenities than the one that stands today, Steve Munson explained.
“The product lines are 10 times what they used to be,” he said. “It used to be that the Andersen Windows catalog was about half an inch thick. Now it is so big it is on a CD. There are so many more choices now in sizes and colors.”
Fred and his wife, Audrey Munson, sold the business to their children. Steve Munson, Mike Munson and their brother-in-law, Bob Goble, now own the company. But it is still run with an old-fashioned flair.
There is coffee at the counter, where one of the owners will almost always be found ready to lend an ear or give advice. And Fred Munson, at 92 years old, still comes in to work.
“(Fred) comes in to rip boards and brings them up to sell,” said Shaynon Munson, Steve’s daughter.
The Munson children and grandchildren were raised at the hardware store. Shaynon Munson remembers the store being almost like a playground.
“I used to run around and balance on the boards,” she said. “The ladies upstairs told me I used to pull all of the things out of the bins, but I don’t remember that.”
Both Mike and Steve Munson grew up working at the store.
“I guess the first thing I did was filling up the nail bins,” Mike Munson said. “I was probably about 10 when they trusted me to weigh the nails and get it right.”
The hardware industry has changed a lot in the past 40 years, the Munsons say. Far more homeowners doing are their own repairs and upgrades. About 60 percent of sales are to contractors and 40 percent to homeowners by volume.
“There are a lot of do-it-yourselfers,” Steve Munson said. “The information they can get from the computer is unlimited — from product information to how to do most anything.”
Munson True Value employs 21 people. In addition to building materials, the store sells True Value hardware and rents equipment. And, of course, the Munsons and their employees offer coffee and advice to anyone who comes looking.
“These are very good people,” said Doris Holcomb, who has worked at Munson True Value for 10 years. “You feel like you are part of a family here.”