Seven Corners sold to developer

A real estate deal brings an end to a Twin Cities hardware institution.

St. Paul, Minn.-based Seven Corners Hardware, which has served hobbyists, homeowners, contractors and other DIY-oriented customers in the Twin Cities and beyond since 1933, will be closing its doors as a result of a real estate deal, said third-generation owner Bill Walsh, whose father and grandfather previously ran the store.

The company retained Tiger Capital Group to direct the sale of its merchandise inventories and other assets. 

“Over the years, our family has turned down several offers to buy our property, which is prime real estate right across from Xcel Energy Arena,” Walsh noted. “We have always resisted these types of offers. But late last year, we made the difficult decision to sell to one of the nation’s largest real estate developers. The hardest part of this was contemplating the effect it would have on our 21 full-time employees.” 

The decision hinged on a host of personal and business considerations, explained Walsh, who has operated Seven Corners for the past 28 years but has lived in California with his family for the past decade. “I have growing business interests in California and Nevada that have been requiring more and more of my time, and so traveling back and forth between the Midwest and the West Coast has become increasingly difficult,” he said. “Meanwhile, my son is a freshman at Notre Dame, and his career path is unlikely to include becoming the fourth generation to run the store.” 

Given the tough competition in retailing today as well as Seven Corners’ location in a downtown neighborhood with rising real estate values, the pressure to close the business would only have grown moving forward, Walsh added. “Simply put, it seemed like the right time for this decision,” he said. 

With 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space and 60,000 sq. ft. of warehouse storage, Seven Corners is known for the depth of its product lines as well as its 640-page catalog, which it distributes for free to contractors, woodworkers and hobbyists across the country. In 2012, the store’s distinctiveness prompted a profile in Popular Mechanics, which marveled at the dizzying selection of products, replete with unusual items like a 4-ft.-long pipe wrench or Manila rope so thick it has to be cut with a hacksaw before it can be sold to Mississippi River barge operators. 

With its 1,500-or-so contractor accounts, Seven Corners sells 200 types of hammers, 400 screwdrivers, 170 different files and 4,200 plumbing products. “Our second-floor showroom has 900 power tools on display, with models of drills, saws, planers, routers, pneumatics, stationary machinery and other tools that some of our customers never knew existed,” Walsh said. 

When Walsh’s grandfather, William L. Walsh, opened Seven Corners in 1933, the store sold much more than hardware. “People came in to buy hunting supplies, pots and pans -- you name it,” Walsh said. “Back then, with our wood floors, 12-ft. ceilings and mix of general goods, we were more like an old-fashioned department store than a modern hardware operation.” But in the 1960s, Walsh’s father, Robert L. Walsh, responded to America’s postwar construction boom by broadening Seven Corners’ focus. “He wanted to meet the needs of busy contractors throughout the Twin Cities,” explained Walsh, who was 10 when he started helping his father at the store. “It was a great move, because later on it helped differentiate us from giants like Walmart and The Home Depot.”

When Walsh took over the business from his father in the late 1980s, he focused on ramping up the mail-order business. Catalog sales surged, and in 1991 Walsh expanded Seven Corners by adding a second floor. “Since about 1990, we have shipped more than 1.7 million packages all around the world through our mail-order business,” Walsh noted. 

As Seven Corners grew, it retained some of the personalized, small-town feel that had characterized its early years, Walsh said. “You could walk in and say, ‘Geez, my faucet broke and my wife really wants me to fix it. Can you help me through it?’ And my guys would be happy to spend 20 minutes helping you through that, even if all you needed was a washer,” he said. “Conversely, a local university might call up with a $10,000 purchase of specialized tools and equipment for a big project. At our store, we have always been happy to serve both types of customers.”

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