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03/16/2021

Isthmus True Value gets in the groove

Jason Shaw, left and Greg Norman in front of their store.

Greg Norman and Jason Shaw, the owners of Isthmus True Value Hardware in Madison, Wis., are examples of musically gifted retailers. But these are not your typical players who meet up to provide entertainment at industry gatherings.

These guys bring heat. With Norman on bass guitar and Shaw leading the vocals, their brand of rock (available to sample at their website) is described as “furious and intricate basslines” with “soaked tone blues guitar riffs.”

Norman described the band to HBSDealer: “it’s progressive metal, distorted guitars.” Responding to a question, he added: “No, it’s not anything like Neil Diamond.”

These days, the stage for Norman and Shaw has shifted from local nightspots like Mickey’s Tavern or the High Noon Saloon to a former bank building that’s now known as Isthmus True Value. The new, 3,000-sq.-ft. store represents the return of independent hardware retailing to downtown Madison.

An album cover of the owners' groove metal band, Full Vinyl Treatment.

Shaw and Norman had been managers at Dorn True Value Hardware for years, before the grocery store that owned the property of Dorn’s downtown Madison location expanded and forced the hardware business out in early 2018. The two managers and groove metal performers saw an opportunity in the former bank building, and they opened the store in early 2021.

“The neighborhood is really glad to have a hardware store back downtown,” Norman told HBSDealer.

Madison is the hometown of the flagship University of Wisconsin campus. The bank location is excellent for walk-in traffic. It has off-street parking, a convenient location foor nearby residences. And It also has an ace up its sleeve: a familiar bank drive-through window. The new owners are rolling up their sleeves to make the most of the efficiencies of the built-in drive thru as curbside pick up shows no signs of slowing down around the industry.

“Initially, we figured that the bank’s drive-thru would be kind of a gimmick,” Norman said. Customers, he imagined, could drive up and communicate with an employee in the drive thru line, or pick up small items through the window. “But since Covid-19 became such a big issue,  we think this could really work out to be better than curbside pickup and more convenient than the experience that big boxes offer,” Norman added.

Greg Norman on guitar.

There remains some red tape. Isthmus True Value requires city permission to operate the drive through. (At presstime, Norman said he was optimistic approval will be granted.) He’s also working on finding replacement pneumatic tube containers in case there’s a demand for really small items. (“The bank didn’t leave behind the capsules,” he said.)

Norman entered the hardware industry in 1995. “It was a job opportunity, and it seemed like a good fit. The scheduling worked out, and I had just graduated from college.”

At Dorn True Value, Norman met Shaw, joined Shaw’s band, and the two 20-year-hardware retailing veterans are now partners on the new stage

Dorn True Value, where both men worked at various locations, had been a Madison institution since the early 1980s. The new store is about three blocks from the old Dorn’s Madison store, which was about five times the size of Isthmus True Value.

“We’re trying to resurrect something that was successful,” Norman said.

At 3,000 sq. ft. of selling space, every inch of merchandising counts. And the mindset is rock solid: Norman explained. “One of the things we’re working on now is getting customer feedback. We’ve got to put togetherthe selection based on that and continue to modify,” Norman explained.” Listen to your customer and react to what they say.”