Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Burlington Pro closing after more than 60 years

Owner suffers fiscal losses

By Gina Holt
Enquirer Contributor

        BURLINGTON — A 60-year icon on this small and quickly growing town's landscape is closing, making way for the new as the county seat of one of the fastest-growing counties in Kentucky.

        Burlington Pro Hardware, at Ky. 18 and Jefferson, will close April 13. “It's been open as a hardware store since the '40s,” said Frank Herold, owner of the store since 1995.

        Vicki Rombach, 46, of Hebron, shopped at Burlington Pro when she lived in Burlington and still drives the extra miles to the store.

        “I think it's going to be an inconvenience for the people who live there. It's a service for the small community,” Mrs. Rombach said, adding that she received friendly personal service.

        “They'd fix a screen while you waited,” she said. “ ... If you had a need for something unusual, you knew he'd have it or find it for you.”

        Mr. Herold decided it was time to close about three weeks ago, but word is just starting to get around. “I had a negative sales day recently and decide to close it,” he said.

        The store had not done well financially for about four years and he had struggled with whether to close.

        He wants to close the store as soon as possible. “Why prolong it?” Mr. Herold said. “You make the decision and then enact it. It took me a long time to make the actual decision.

        “It's a personal defeat,” he added. “I've worked a lot of hours to put this store together. It's hard to take. I'm sorry to see it go, but I got to eat.”

        Mr. Herold also owns Hebron Pro Hardware on Petersburg Road, which will remain open. The Burlington store was able to survive the past few years off the profits of the Hebron store.

        He attributes the lack of customers for the small Burlington store to big-box home improvement stores, many of which have come to Northern Kentucky as it has grown. “The younger generation thinks big is better.”

        Mr. Herold rents the 162-year-old building from Margaret Stephens of Burlington, who often shops at the store.

        “I'm sorry to lose him,” Mrs. Stephens said. Even though the building has a lot of history for Mrs. Stephens and the community, she's decided to sell.

        “I would rather sell it than rent it again. It was originally built as a hotel in 1840,” she said, adding that it's listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

        The Central House Hotel eventually became a restaurant.

        Her husband, Alvin “Pete” Stephens, converted it to a hardware store in 1940. They sold the store to Ralph Wilmhoff in 1978, who sold it to Mr. Herold.

        The Stephenses bought the building next door in the 1930s to house the Boone County Recorder newspaper, which they owned.

        “They are two separate buildings,” she said. “There was a grassy area between them. He (Mr. Stephens) joined them. It has a common wall.”

        Jim Parson, county administrator, has said that the county would purchase lots in Burlington as they become available for future development. However, he said, the county isn't interested in the Burlington Pro Hardware lot.

        “I don't think we need any property right now,” said Mr. Parson adding that the county just purchased 60 acres for the new government center. “I think we're going to concentrate on it right now.”

        Mrs. Stephens said the county has not approached her about her property.

        She hopes the building will remain part of Burlington for a long time to come. Mr. Parson said being on the National Register of Historical Places does not protect the building.

        “It means it's historically significant,” he said. “It's only a recognition. It does not protect if from being torn down.”


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