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NEWPORT, Ky. - When the New Year begins, Don Hartig isn't quite sure what he's going to do with himself.
That's because Hartig has spent most of the past 32 years working, in one capacity or another, at Klingenberg's Hardware and Paint on Patterson Street in Newport.
Hartig, 50, began working at the store shortly after he graduated from high school in 1980. His uncle owned the store then and – when he decided to retire – Hartig bought the business nearly eight years ago.
A person might reasonably conclude that selling tools, piping, screws and paint was in Hartig's DNA. Before his uncle purchased the place, his grandfather had run the business since the 1960s.
All of that came to an end when the store closed its doors for the final time on Dec. 29. A simple sign pasted on the outside of the building put it bluntly: "Store closing – 20 percent to 50 percent off."
End of an era
After 90 years in operation, the shop fell victim to changing shopping habits and the Great Recession.
"I always take off for the holidays, so it's going to be pretty sad when Jan. 2 rolls around," Hartig said. "There won't be anything left to come into. It hasn't really sunk in yet."
The store has struggled in recent years. Many customers have departed for flashier big box stores like Lowe's and Home Depot, leaving Klingenberg's to rely mostly on contractors and other businesses that purchase their supplies there.
Once the housing bubble burst and the recession hit, even those customers started to dwindle.
"We deal a lot with different businesses and companies, so when they get slow, our business goes down," Hartig said. "It's just slowly trickled away."
A familiar fixture
Klingenberg's is a familiar name to many longtime residents.
The tradition began in 1922, when the five Klingenberg brothers opened their hardware stores in towns throughout Northern Kentucky. Each store was owned and operated by one of the brothers.
By the time the brothers were ready to retire, the stores were sold one by one, but each kept the well-known moniker.
Today, only two locations will remain after Hartig's store closes: one in Covington, the other in Latonia.
According to local history, the Newport store occupies a space that once housed a raucous saloon. Its storied past is still apparent in the long, narrow counter that runs the length of the shop's front room.
On a recent, dreary Friday morning, two customers perused the store's wares. One, a builder, was there for work supplies. The other, Mary Jo Soard, heard about the closing and wanted to see the place before it slipped into history.
"My dad has always gone to Klingenberg's. I thought I'd stop by one last time," said Soard, a Crescent Springs resident.
"I hate seeing little stores like this closing," she added. "They just can't compete with Lowe's and Home Depot."
Just the basics, and memories
In fact, Klingenberg's doesn't offer fancy ceiling fans, a garden center or gift cards like the large retailers, and the only parking is on-street.
But what Klingenberg's lacks in variety it makes up for in heart.
"Most stores like this one have people who've been here longer, so they can walk you through how to get things done," Hartig said. "It's more about customer service and that personal touch."
As a result, Klingenberg's has developed a regular clientele who have frequented the store for years, sometimes decades.
"There are some that are so regular that you don't even think of them as customers anymore," Hartig added, smiling.
He has many fond memories, like the time a Butternut delivery truck driver came through the front door rolling a cart full of bread. "He had the wrong block," Hartig said dryly.
Once news of the closure spread, some familiar faces have stopped by to say a final goodbye.
"We've had a lot of people who haven't been here in years, who have moved to different cities or whatever, that have come in to take another look," Hartig said. "It's going to be pretty sad on the final day."
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