Frattallones return the hardware store to Burnsville

Ace opens near County Road 42

Larry Frattallone, who opened his first Ace Hardware store in 1975, is opening his newest one in Burnsville with his sons, Tom and Mike. Photo by John Gessner

by John Gessner
Thisweek Newspapers

Larry Frattallone couldn’t believe it either.

“Sixty-thousand people and no hardware store?” he said.

That was the case in Burnsville, where Frattallone and his sons, Tom and Mike, are expanding their Twin Cities chain of Frattallone’s Ace Hardware and Garden Centers with a new store at the Burnhill Plaza mall.

The 23,000-square-foot store, located north of County Road 42 and east of Irving Avenue, will be Burnsville’s first hardware store since George’s Hardware Hank at Highway 13 and Cliff Road. A “soft opening” was planned for this week.

The collective wisdom around town is that it’s been nearly a decade since George’s closed, said Burnsville Chamber of Commerce President Daron Van Helden.

“It’s kind of unheard of,” said Frattallone, of St. Paul. “I’ve got two stores in Minneapolis a mile away from each other. … and they’re both doing really good business.”

Of course, there are places nearby where you can get a lot of the products Frattallone’s Ace Hardware is selling.

“Everybody’s our competitor — Costco, Mills Fleet Farm,” said Frattallone, who opened his first store in 1975 and is opening his 17th at age 69. “But we’re a unique thing. We can do what they do, but they can’t do what we do.”

The difference, he said, is in the level of customer service and the array services the hardware store offers — everything from product assembly and computer color matching to repairing snowblowers and weed trimmers.

“It’s not a Target,” Frattallone said, adding that many younger shoppers may not even be familiar with traditional hardware stores.

“We’re the guys that get the things done — the pipe-threading, the cutting of a piece of glass, power-equipment repair. It’s service, service, service, all the way through.”

Frattallone, who grew up in St. Paul, got his start in retail working at a Sears appliance satellite store at Har Mar Mall in Roseville.  When Sears closed the stores Frattallone and a partner, whom he soon bought out, opened an Ace Hardware in Arden Hills.

It’s still there, but Frattallone said it took him three years to get his head above water in business and about eight before he could open a second store, in White Bear Lake.

“It was three years before I started seeing light with my first store,” he said. “I remember sitting there in tears because it cost $25 a night for heat and lighting, and there were no customers. I was 32 years old and pretty much in debt.”

In recent years, he and his sons have added about a store a year, including a Bloomington store that opened last year on 98th Street, Frattallone said. All their stores are under the flag of Ace Hardware, an Illinois-based retailers cooperative with more than 4,400 stores.

The Burnsville store is his second largest behind Circle Pines, Frattallone said. He hopes employment at the store will top 50 people once gardening season arrives.

“We’ll have tents here and some of the best plants,” Frattallone said.

He and his sons haven’t skimped on promotion and advertising in building their empire. A catchy last name — an Italian surname bequeathed by his stepfather — doesn’t hurt, Frattallone said.

“We have a perfect name,” he said. “It’s so easy to pronounce and easy to spell. It’s distinctive.”

His son, Mike, is the guy people know from radio and TV ads, Frattallone said.

“The professional people think Mike is one of the best. He can read the Gideon Bible in 30 seconds. He’s fast.”

John Gessner is at [email protected]