The crisper weather turns our attention from outdoor recreation to indoor activities. It’s the perfect time to work on household projects and spruce up your home décor. There are two family owned and operated businesses in north Lansing that can help you — Vet’s Ace Hardware and Vet’s Too Gift and Garden Boutique. Vet’s Ace Hardware harkens back to the good old days — well stocked with any tool or part you’ll need. If you have an older home, you can even find items that are obsolete. The boutique next door is brimming with unique gifts and other treasures. Both have their origins with Luella Tarwater Rolfe, 91 years young, who started the business with her first husband Harold, after he returned from World War II. The Tarwaters opened a number of stores in the Lansing area that sold hardware, groceries, toys and party items. Eventually, they focused their efforts on the current Vet’s Ace Hardware, named in honor of veterans. When Harold died at a young age, Luella was left with the daunting task of running the business herself. Although she had three young children and a brand new house at the time, she persevered, becoming one of the first women business owners in the area. She soon met Ted Rolfe, a salesman who sold goods to the hardware store. They married and he helped her raise her children and grow her business. Sadly, she lost Ted when he was in his fifties. But she was blessed with an offer from her son-in-law Denny Perdue to help with the store. “When it comes to running this business, he’s just brilliant,” Luella said. The store is in a good location and they have a steady base of customers. “People like to come and spend time just looking around,” Luella said. “We’ve stayed old fashioned.” One neighbor that Luella didn’t welcome sat immediately next door — an adult entertainment club. She prayed that the business would move out and eventually her prayers were answered when the business shut down. Denny decided to buy it and use it for storage. Eventually, storage gave way to a garden center, and Bonnie, Luella’s daughter and Denny’s wife, offered to operate it when she wasn’t busy with her own successful preschool called Precious People that she’d owned for 20 years. When she retired from the preschool, Bonnie filled the boutique with garden and household décor, books, clothing lines, jewelry, scarves, gifts and other treasures she comes across on buying trips. And because she also wanted to honor veterans in the area, she named it Vet’s Too. “It has a little bit of everything and a few surprises, too,” Bonnie said. She also decorates it to fit the season. Education is Bonnie’s first love and she’s incorporated those skills in running the shop. She’s hosted garden parties with featured speakers ranging from local authors to jewelry artists and someone who demonstrates ways to wear scarves. Bonnie will continue these events throughout the year. Her mother is Bonnie’s biggest fan. “Bonnie has a knack for finding the most attractive things,” Luella exclaims. Luella still works at the hardware store alongside other employees. Every Tuesday, she drives herself from her west Lansing home and helps customers find what they’re looking for. “She literally knows the nuts and bolts of her business,” said Bonnie. “She can tell you where anything is.” “Actually, I come in for the hugs and compliments,” said Luella with a twinkle in her eye. Customer service has been her and the staff’s number one priority, even if it goes above and beyond the call. Luella remembers one Christmas when toys a customer had ordered from a mail order company had not arrived by Christmas Eve. Even though the store was closed for the holidays, Luella opened it to get some toys the children could open the next day. “I wanted them to have Christmas,” she said. Luella is grateful that both businesses are going strong, and from the sounds of it, she is too. She believes in staying active, taking vitamin C and getting a little help from above. “It’s been a great life and I count my blessings every day,” she said. “The Lord directed my life. He’s held my hand through it all and lead me every step of the way.”
Ann Cool, MPS, is a freelance writer who lives in Mason with her husband Bob.