Two Guttenberg businesses, each well over a century in age, have come together in Meuser Lumber Company’s March purchase of Kuempel Hardware. John Finch of Meuser Lumber and Tom Kuempel of Kuempel Hardware recently reminisced about the past, present, and future of the two companies.
Meuser Lumber has been the Finch family business since 1940 when Finch's great-grandfather bought out his partners, the Meuser brothers. Finch himself has been managing the business since 1988 and took full ownership in 2012 when he purchased Meuser Lumber from his father, Charles Finch. Charles was gifted 10 percent of the business from his grandfather in 1956, and took over management from his own father, Harold Finch, in 1960.
Three of Finch's own sons are currently working in the family business and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. With a full team behind him, Finch struck a deal with another Guttenberg man in a family business. “I knew that Tom was getting ready to retire and I was preparing us for the fact that there might not be a hardware store up there, so I built on here,” said Finch. “I drove by Kuempel’s before Christmas and saw how nice it looked and I thought, ‘I’m going to go talk to Tom.’ It would be a shame if it closed.”
Kuempel has been a part of his family business for 55 of its 118 years. His grandfather, Ed Kuempel, moved to Guttenberg with his brother, John, in 1900, after two fires burned down their businesses in Clayton. They opened Kuempel Hardware in the very same location where it exists today. Eventually, Kuempel's father and uncle took over the business, selling boat motors, sporting goods, guns, appliances, toys, and gifts. In 1963, Tom joined the staff with his father and brother, and has been the sole owner of the business since 1995 - delivering and installing appliances; taking service calls on nights, weekends and holidays; and taking care of the store Monday through Saturday.
Though he’s now fully retired, Tom has agreed to help walk one of Finch’s sons through appliance repairs when needed. Besides seeing a new young man at their door delivering and repairing their dishwashers, refrigerators, washers, dryers, and ovens, customers won’t notice much change in Meuser Lumber or Kuempel Hardware. Finch has chosen to keep Kuempel’s name on the downtown store, and its knowledgeable staff will remain. Product branding will change from True Value to the Do-it-Best line Meuser’s uses, but Kuempel’s inventory – including housewares – will be very similar.
The transition from Kuempel to Finch went smoothly. “They just put their trust in each other and shook hands,” commented Finch’s father, Charles. After about a month of discussion between Tom and John, the sale of Kuempel Hardware [was finalized]. Echoing the voices of many generations of Kuempel’s customers, Finch told The Press, “I see the importance of what that store is.”
Photo by the author.