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Cooperative signs lease, option to buy for Poplar Hardware

Cashier Ellyn Rooney, left, stands at the front counter as store manager Matt Austin takes a call Wednesday morning, April 10, at Poplar Hardware. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) 1 / 4
Poplar Hardware is open for business on Wednesday morning. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) 2 / 4
Store manager Matt Austin stocks the gardening area at Poplar Hardware on Wednesday, April 10. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) 3 / 4
Cashier Ellyn Rooney helps a customer at the old register at Poplar Hardware on Wednesday morning, April 10. Soon, the register will move to the setup seen at the left. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com) 4 / 4

An iconic Poplar business is getting a spring makeover. Iron River Cooperatives has signed a three-year lease with an option to buy Poplar Hardware, according to store manager Matt Austin.

The cooperative, which also owns a hardware and grocery store in Iron River, is resetting Poplar Hardware with new hours, a new layout and expanded product lines.

"Just wait until the cabin people come back — they'll be surprised," said Scott Lundberg, whose family has been involved in owning or managing the village hardware store for generations.

Since Iron River Cooperatives took the reins March 4, the store layout has been retooled.

"We'll have a bigger sporting goods section and actually be more geared toward hardware again," Austin said.

Lundberg ticked off areas that have moved and expanded, from the plumbing department and lawn and garden to the tool section.

"I can't even find anything anymore," said Poplar resident Dan Bergsten, who worked at the hardware store for 47 years. "I used to be able to walk in my sleep and find them."

He welcomed the new management.

"They're going in with a good attitude and good change," Bergsten said. "It's much needed."

Iron River Cooperatives, which dates back to 1914 and has about 4,500 members, learned the building was for sale about a year ago.

"We're always looking for an opportunity to expand our business and service a wider area," said general manager Patrick Dooley.

He sees the stores, both Hardware Hanks, as complementary to each other. The Poplar building offers more storage space, appliance lines and a footprint that's 5,000 square feet bigger than the cooperative's Iron River hardware. It opens the cooperative up to more potential members, as well.

Lundberg said he and his brother, Terry, have been looking at selling the business for a few years. They've appreciated Austin's enthusiasm and ideas for the store.

"One of the things we looked at when making this transition is to make sure the hardware store stayed a part of Poplar," Lundberg said, and to bring in new blood that would keep the business growing.

"It's a good change and I think they're going to do all right," Bergsten said. "People just need to get used to it."

More changes are in store. A new cashier counter sat flush against the front wall of Poplar Hardware on Tuesday, April 10, ready to be hooked up. A roll-up door will be added to the back wall to bring ride-on lawnmowers and other large lawn equipment into the store. Plans are in the works for a future greenhouse, a feature that's been popular with Iron River customers.

Customers will find familiar faces at the front counter to help them navigate the store's evolving landscape.

"I think it's important for people to know we kept all employees and we're going to continue to run it as a hardware store, just as maybe a hardware store with more options," Dooley said..

Poplar Hardware will celebrate its grand opening on Mother's Day weekend, May 9-11. During the event, a table will be set up to sign up new members, Dooley said. There is no cost. Members get an annual rebate on purchases they make at all Iron River Cooperatives stores and the opportunity to help select board members and offer feedback.

Store hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.