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Retail Profile: Gopher Ace Hardware

In Long Lake Minnesota, a history-rich retail business is built to last.

BY Ken Clark

Gopher Ace Hardware in Long Lake, Minn., not only has a pretty cool logo – a hammer-wielding anthropomorphized gopher — it has a pretty cool story.

Mike Kokesh, who owns the business with Mark Schaefer, politely introduced himself to HBSDealer when an obsolete photo of his store mistakenly appeared in a news article at HBSDealer.com. Kokesh introduced HBSDealer to a hardware story that twists and turns through more than a century of commercial history.

Some of the highlights:

  • Co-owners Schaefer and Kokesh grew up about a mile apart from each other and were college roommates. That’s interesting in its own right. But consider also, Gopher Ace Hardware is the only confirmed case (in our knowledge) of a hardware store owned simultaneously by an active police officer (Kokesh) and a firefighter (Schaefer).
  • The Long Lake, Minn. Store’s bloodlines run all the way back to 1903, when the Kokesh Hardware was founded by the Kokesh brothers.
  • An unusual coincidence – the marriage of Kokesh cousins and Kraemer sisters of Kraemer’s General Store in Glen Lake, Minn., in the first half of the 20th century – led to the interchange of personnel and inventory between the two retailers. Mike’s father, Paul Kokesh, worked at both Kraemer’s and Kokesh Hardware in the 1960s.

    Kokesh, right, was best man at Schaefer’s wedding.

  • Minnesota Vikings fans pay attention: Paul Kokesh branched off into the sporting goods business in the late 1960s with Kokesh Athletic & Golf Supply. That led to the formation of Metro Athletic Supply, which provided uniforms and supplies to local schools, and also the state’s beloved Minnesota Vikings.
  • Kokesh’s early memories of working in a hardware store date back to 1979, when as a 4-year-old, he helped his grandmother Margaret Kraemer Kokesh change prices at Kraemer’s True Value in Glen Lake.
  • Schaefer and Mike opened Long Lake True Value in 2011. They made the switch to Ace in late 2018. “It was an emotional decision and a decision that took a lot of time,” Kokesh said. He said the 9,000 sq. foot store is doing well, with sales up 20%. Yetti sales are up 39%, he added.
  • The Gopher Ace Hardware store, Kokesh believes, is one of the few (if not the only) Ace store with its own mascot, a hammer-wielding gopher, which has its most prominent place on the side of the store’s fully wrapped delivery van. Gopher Ace derives its name from Minnesota’s status as “The Gopher State,” and the owners were attracted to its broad appeal. The cool creature had humble beginnings: “We drew it out on a piece of cardboard,” Kokesh said.

The two co-owners are active in the community through their professions and through their hardware store. Additionally, they have busy family lives. Kokesh and his wife, Aimee, have two children; and Schaefer, who also provides landscaping and snow plowing services, is recently married to his wife, Cassie. Check out more from the company here.

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