One does not simply wander into Ace Hardware and Electric Company on Hamilton Avenue in Northside. It’s more of a local treasure that neighborhood folks frequent. Visiting Ace Hardware means knowing how to navigate the ceiling-high stacks of hardware, make shift tools, antiques, and narrow pathways that resemble a medieval marketplace. Any seasoned Northsider knows one cannot physically search through it all. If you want something, you ask, and when you get what you need (and you always do), you pay in cash. This renowned store is recognized for having everything available, except space. Part of the charm and appeal of Ace is not just walking into your great uncle’s garage at the edge of universe, it’s that you can trace each object back to every year Ace has been in business, that another human being will approach you and ask you politely what you need–still, that you will always get what you need, if not more.
Open since 1955, Ace Hardware is a relic of the Northside of the past. While businesses come and go, often tragically before their time, Ace has remained relevant, essential even, in maintaining our old and eclectic neighborhood. These beautiful timeworn houses need constant maintenance and updating, and for the last six decades, Ace has been there. More specifically, Bill Dickaus has been there. William J. “Ace” Dickaus, the owner and face of Ace, passed away this past Friday January 31, 2014 at the age of 88. Bill, the motor that drove Ace, was known for custom making tools, his friendliness and for providing supplies and advice that one could not find at any other hardware store. Longtime customer Ricky Mullins reflects “My dad was always grumpy when he sent me someplace and I didn’t get the right thing, but at Bill’s place he always knew what dad wanted”
Each community member remembers him in their own way, however, there seems to be a common thread—Bill was kind, knew what people wanted, made his customers feel like a part of the community, and showed interest in projects his neighbors were working on. “Although I sometimes didn’t know what I needed, “ JJ Staples recollects “[Bill] enthroned on his stool next to the cash register hidden way back in there, was always patient with me and never less than insightful, telling me why the thing I thought I needed wasn’t going to work and proposing a more practical replacement, that as often as not, cost less than what I had in mind.”
After Northsider Ollie Kroner bought his house, he would walk down to Ace with a list of what he needed for whichever repair he was tackling, “Bill would ask me what I was working on and how I was going about it. By the time we had collected my list of needs, he had given me a lesson in the home repair I was about to attempt.” Kroner recalls, “I would express my gratitude, and he would say ‘We don’t sell you what you want, we sell you what you need!’
Martha and Mike Dourson purchased a house in Northside in the early 80’s and they remember Bill for his charm and the sense of trust he instilled in his customers, “Soon after we moved to Northside, and after visiting the hardware about 10 times each week, [Bill] encouraged us to keep a tab, so we did. We kept the list of items and we paid it off each month. It worked like a charm. And I think that was exactly it…you experienced that old time charm in his store – the shelves laden with merchandise, old and new, his acute knowledge of the exact location of every item, and his knowledge of how to fix just about everything.”
Another standout trait was Bill’s sense of humor. Rick Browning remembers collecting merchandise in Ace one day, when an elderly woman came in searching for a flea collar. “Bill rang up the sale but before he put it in a bag he asked the woman if she wanted to wear it home… This is just an example of the sense of humor Bill had. The world needs more people like Bill.”
Bill also cared about his customers enough to remember them years later. “On his last birthday, we talked on the phone and Bill remembered things about me from 30-35 years prior,” says Bill Ward.
According to Claire Darley, Bill also cared enough about his customers to modify merchandise for them “He did not have the right size screw in stock for a project I was in the middle of. He showed me a prepackaged set of something else with the size screws I needed. Bill popped open the package and sold me only the screws… I always wondered if he found a match between someone else’s needs and what was left over in the package.”
Not to mention Bill’s customers truly cared about him, as Northsider Barbara Boylan remembers, “I heard so many customers thank him over the 20 years I have been going there… I kissed Bill on the cheek often and answered his phone when he couldn’t get to it.”
Bill was the heart of Ace and his legacy will not fade.
By Rae Hoffman