This is the first story in a series about the women entrepreneurs and business owners along Upshur Street in Petworth. Join us as we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th with a special community event free for the whole family.
The story of Annie’s Ace Hardware is the classic tale of “build it and they will come.”
Annie Stom, a lifelong DIY building aficionado, had purchased an old house in Park View. The home was in need of a serious renovation, and Stom undertook the work herself. Her problem: there were no hardware stores nearby. Stom would dutifully go to the Home Depot on Rhode Island Ave every Friday night to stock up on tools and supplies for that weekend’s work. But invariably, come Saturday, she would realize that she was missing something, and have to race back across town.
Even the most efficient round trip to Home Depot — and Stom has the speeding tickets to prove it — takes at least an hour from Park View.
“Boy, does that bust your momentum,” Stom says.
That got Stom thinking: more and more people are moving to the neighborhood, most of the houses need renovation, and there’s no hardware store nearby.
So, Stom decided to open one.
After investigating a few different options, she landed on Ace Hardware, which follows a co-op structure with individual owners purchasing shares in the corporation. Annie’s Ace Hardware opened on February 7, 2012 at 1240 Upshur Street NW, and has been a strong presence in the neighborhood for 7 years.
“There was a line on the first day,” Stom recalls. “It was great. So many people who had lived here for twenty, twenty-five years were saying Thank you for opening.’”
Annie’s Ace started with a relatively small footprint, and carried 16,000 unique items. When customers asked for items, Stom would bring them in. Eventually, she expanded her space and opened a second Ace in Brookland in 2016.
Stom has made customer service her cornerstone. She makes a point of spending a good deal of time at the stores, and making sure employees are well-trained and accessible.
“Our customers are so nice, and they’re so happy that there’s someone paying attention to them,” she says. “It’s good for them to feel that they can talk to the owner of the store. That there really is an Annie.”
Because of their co-op structure, each Ace store is a little different, and caters to its neighborhood and customer base. Over the years the Petworth Ace has expanded its gardening and grill sections, and has brought in toys, pet supplies, and gifts.
When I asked Stom whether it’s tough to be a female business owner - and an owner of a hardware store at that - she demurred. But her colleague Jym Wilson, Ace’s lead garden associate, didn’t mince words.
“Every male employee has been asked if they are the owner,” Wilson said.
Nevermind that the store has “Annie’s” emblazoned on the front.
Stom did offer that sometimes men -- always men -- give her tips on how to run her store. Over the years though, she’s found an expeditious way of dealing with the unsolicited advice.
“I think that’s a great idea,” she tells them. “When you own your own hardware store, give that a go.”
All photos courtesy Anne Stom.