As far as the eye can see

As far as the eye can see

Owner Howard Miller watches customers roam the floor of his hardware store in Hartville.

Owner Howard Miller watches customers roam the floor of his hardware store in Hartville. It’s one of the largest independently owned hardware stores in the world.

Large windows inside Howard Miller’s office give him a prime view of Hartville Hardware’s main floor; he often leaves his desk to watch folks navigating his store.

Down on the sales floor, shoppers might run across anything from a bright green John Deere Gator to a hot pink, Lil’ Pig Traeger grill. From time to time, someone looks up, spots Miller at the window, and waves. Miller always eagerly waves back. “I grew up with so many people that work and shop here,” he says.

With about 7 acres under its roof, Hartville Hardware is one of the largest independently owned hardware stores in the world. It has 305,000 square feet of space on two floors, 75,000 different items, six entrances, and four elevators.

“Somebody once calculated that this store is big enough to hold an average-size Home Depot and an average-size Lowe’s, plus a football field,” Miller says.

Indeed, Hartville Hardware’s retail-focused main level easily accommodates an 1,850-square-foot “idea home” designed to showcase American-made building materials and fixtures, while its contractor-oriented basement level boasts a 38,000-square-foot drive-through lumberyard.

But this megastore isn’t in a typical metropolitan shopping complex. It sits just west of Hartville, a village of 3,000 people in the countryside between Akron and Canton. Opened in 2012, Hartville Hardware is part of a 200-acre campus of Miller family enterprises that have put Hartville on the map by attracting about 2 million visitors every year. Its adjacent sister businesses include Hartville Kitchen, specializing in Amish-style comfort foods; the Hartville MarketPlace and Flea Market, which hosts about 100 indoor shops and 500 outdoor vendor spaces; and Hartville Collectibles, a gift shop and clothing boutique. “One of our favorite slogans is ‘Come here and make a day of it,’ because we offer so much to do in one place,” Miller says.

Raised in a Beachy Amish household, Miller traces his family’s entrepreneurial bent to 1939, when his grandfather started the Hartville Livestock Auction and his grandmother ran the auction barn’s lunch counter. His father, Howard Miller Sr., subsequently owned a restaurant and several other businesses in Hartville. In 1972, when Miller was 19, his father learned that a local hardware store was for sale and asked him if he would like to run it.

“Dad told me that he needed my answer the next day because somebody else wanted to buy the store,” Miller recalls. He indeed was interested, and with help from his brother Wayne, who was still in high school at the time, Miller took charge of a 5,000-square-foot hardware store with three employees. Today, he is Hartville Hardware’s president, Wayne Miller is vice president, and they have more than 250 employees.

According to Miller, having knowledgeable employees sets Hartville Hardware apart from big-box competitors. “One of the reasons customers come here is that our people know what they’re talking about,” he says. Many of the workers there have 20 or more years of experience and will go the extra mile to help. When an elderly woman recently came into the store and mentioned her dog had died, an employee buried the dog during his lunch hour.

Hartville Hardware also carries things that customers cannot find elsewhere. “Tools and hardware are two of the store’s marquee departments,” says Miller. “We have woodworking products from England and a huge selection of nuts, bolts, and specialty fasteners.” Every February and November, the store holds giant tool sales and presents workshops conducted by industry experts.

In addition, Hartville Hardware hosts a home and garden expo in March, summertime grill fests with celebrity chefs, and an October fashion show featuring Miller family members and employees modeling Carhartt apparel. The store even treats customers to free coffee every day. “We’re experience driven,” Miller says. “We want to make Hartville Hardware a fun place to be.”