Thompson True-Value to build new store downtown

T-R FILE PHOTO Dave Thompson, owner-operator of the local Thompson’s True-Value, gestures toward one set of steel beams backed by tons of concrete block on June 1. They were supporting the building’s north side. Another set of beams and block were installed on the opposite side of the entrance. Two fractured roof trusses broken by heavy snow and high winds earlier this year resulted in the emergency repairs.

Credit Dave, Kathy, Paul Thompson and staff of the local Thompson True-Value for standing strong.

The family-owned and operated business has withstood severe damages from a heavy snowstorm in late April and the July 19 EF-3 tornado. Two incidents which might have caused others to fold their tents and leave.

Dave Thompson said he and Kathy will build a new store across the street on property recently purchased from Wells Fargo. Construction will begin this year and weather permitting, be open May 1, 2019.

“I will have to check my calendar to see when Easter 2019 is,” Dave said. “It could be a time of rebirth spiritually and for us.”

The new 14,000 square-foot, clear-span store will be a continuation of an enterprise begun locally in 1985, when the Thompsons moved from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

And Thompson’s roots with the company go back to 1972 to the family’s Eau Claire store.

“It will be super efficient energy-wise, and the layout will make the store seem much bigger,” Dave said. “We are seriously considering putting in a drive-up.”

Thompson said all work will be done by local contractors.

Central Iowans can look forward to a Thompson True-Value well into the future. Dave said son Paul will eventually purchase the store from he and Kathy.

“Kathy and I were raised ‘always family first.’ Our parents made sure we had every opportunity … Our job to take advantage of those opportunities .. we are going to do the same for him .. it is the way we believe … it is all about families,” Dave said.

Their announcement comes at a critical time as concerns mount as a number of Main Street businesses may not reopen after the tornado did extensive damage. The tornado’s damage extended south to True-Value damaging buildings behind the main hardware store causing extensive structural damage.

An April snowfall …

The first of two weather-related incidents may have happened in April, and set in motion a chain of events.

The week before Memorial Day, the Thompsons discovered two roof trusses in their decades-old building had fractured. That caused the building’s north wall – which also enclosed the store’s main entrance – to lean northward.

An urgent call to Hay Construction of Marshalltown followed.

“I have to give Hay Construction high marks,” Thompson said. “They dropped what they were doing once they found out the gravity of the situation. They were ‘Johnny on the Spot.’ They shored things up so it did not get any worse.”

Hay Construction welded huge steel beams to support the wall which also served as the store’s main entrance.

Backing up the steel beams on each side of the main entrance are several giant concrete blocks totalling 18 tons.

It is unclear exactly when the trusses broke.

But Thompson speculated the trusses broke in late April, following a heavy, wet snow accompanied by high winds.

“We heard what sounded like a gun going off in the store,” Thompson told the T-R in May. “Paul and I ran outside. We thought a car had hit the building. We got outside, and saw part of our sign was down, but no car. We did not know what caused the noise. Hindsight being 20/20, we realize now that is probably what it was (trusses breaking).

“After we discovered the roof trusses had fractured, we sat down with Paul, and asked: ‘What do you want to do? He did not hesitate … he said he wanted to stay here. And that is when Kathy and I made the decision to rebuild.”

Negotiations with Wells Fargo were renewed and their offer was accepted on July 20.

Thompson said discussions about purchasing property from Wells Fargo for a new store where initiated years ago, when Jim Lowrance was president of the bank. Lowrance later left Wells Fargo to serve as president of the local Great Western Bank.

Drive-up hardware store

Due to the damaged trusses, customers are allowed only in the store entrance.

Three months later, the Thompsons and staff are still meeting customers outside the front door, taking orders, retrieving items inside and then bringing them outside to the customer or to a car.

“So maybe we are going to start a drive-through hardware store,” Thompson said in May. “That is as good as it can get. We are the only drive-up store in Iowa.”

Ironically, Thompson started his now 50-year career in hardware similarly as a “runner” in the family’s Eau Claire, Wis. store. As a 13-year-old, one of Thompson’s job was to get customer’s orders for plumbing fixtures and go back to a bin, and deliver it up front.

Loyal customer base

Thompson said despite the inconvenience to customers, sales have exceeded expectations.

“Our customer base has been fantastic … so loyal this month (August) will probably have an increase. It is unheard of … we are not letting customers past the front door … you do get that kind of support in big cities. Our customers are like extended family. The amount of support we have received since we started the “drive-up” feature has renewed our faith in the community.”

And what of the current building?

“It is going to be bittersweet when we tear it (109 S. Center St.) down,” Thompson said. “It served us very well. However, at the same time it has been pretty sour operating in this the last 100 days.”

It also meant the damaged roof allowed rainwater to enter the store. Earlier this week the Thompsons cleaned up after a two-inch rain.

Regardless, Thompson said several downtown businesses have expressed interest in the site once the building is demolished.

Thompson’s words in May after the truss incident were prophetic.

“We are the oldest business in Marshalltown,” Thompson said. “We have always been part of the downtown. And no matter what happens … if I can fix this building or remain here, or if we have to rebuild, we are going to stay downtown. It is that simple. This is our home, it has been for 33 years. We are going to stay in Marshalltown. This is our life. I do not know what the future holds, but we are going to be here.”

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com