By Scott Nishimura
Photography by Olaf Growald

Couple gives up Ohio’s snow for Fort Worth’s occasional ice — and the dream of small business and community

t’s been years since the Wellington Square strip shopping center at 6743 Camp Bowie Blvd., behind the defunct Denny’s that now houses Little Germany restaurant, has seen much life.

Enter a couple of Ohioans, Jeff Jerousek and Laurie Birko, who gave up corporate careers and moved south to open a hardware store in the kind of community where they grew up in the Midwest. After an extensive site search in Texas, the couple in February opened a new Ace Hardware at Wellington Square — taking up a big corner spot whose last life was a restaurant.

At 17,000 square feet and with an estimated 23,000 items in stock, including a big inventory of grills and accoutrements for backyard chefs in surrounding Westside neighborhoods, it’s one of Ace Hardware’s largest stores, say Jerousek and Birko. They also operate a swimming pool service out of the space. The Ace franchise, which the couple named Your Best Home Hardware, is also one of the latest entries in a continued revitalization of the far west end of Camp Bowie.

Laurie Birko and Jeff Jerousek, owners of the new Ace Hardware store on Camp Bowie Boulevard

Jerousek, in the hardware store a few weeks after its February grand opening

“I grew up in a small town,” Jerousek says. “The hardware store was like the grocery store. Everybody went there. We missed the small-town community interaction.”

Jerousek has been in the hardware business since he was a youth, going to work for his family’s hardware store in Ohio when he was 13. He became an executive in sales and marketing for a major seller of outdoor power equipment. Birko was an executive in marketing for a major maker of kitchen and bath faucets and other fixtures.

The couple harbored a longtime dream of owning a hardware store. And they wanted to get away from Ohio’s long winters. “I’ve always been focused on growing businesses and growing teams to support that,” Birko says.

Birko had traveled to Texas since she was 15 to show horses and was familiar with the region. “We both had successful careers, and it just took us awhile,” Birko says.

It took three years for the couple to find a location that “checked off all the boxes,” Jerousek says. “The right demographics, housing, density. The last thing you want to do is put a hardware store in the middle of brand-new $600,000 houses.”

The couple narrowed the search to North Texas, and finally, Fort Worth, looking for dense, mature neighborhoods with older homes.

They also were looking for the right feel. “Does it feel like a small town?” Jerousek says.

The couple received a serendipitous boost when Ace Hardware referred them to a real estate broker who lives in neighboring Ridglea Hills and had been lobbying the company to locate a hardware store nearby. “He was a bulldog in trying to find us this space,” says Jerousek, who sold his interest in the family hardware business before he and his wife moved to Texas.

Ace has three formats for its stores, with 14,000 square feet generally the largest. “There are stores that are 50,000 square feet and carry lumber and other items. What we wanted to do is be a destination for things we could be unique in,” Jerousek says.

Jerousek, with customers

Jerousek and Birko arranged the store so hardware needs are at the rear, and “aspirational” items such as grills are at the front entry.

Customers are greeted at the store entrance by a broad assortment of Traeger and Big Green Egg grills and related items. The store’s pool maintenance section also is front and center, catering to do-it-yourselfers, service providers and renovators. The couple integrated their new America’s Swimming Pool Co. service franchise into the space. And in addition to service, the store offers renovations through vendors.

“We tried to set the store up so the front is all aspirational, the stuff you want,” Jerousek says. “The back part of the store is the stuff you need,” such as hardware.

Lydia Guajardo Rickard, executive director of the Camp Bowie District, the nonprofit public improvement district created in October 2000 by commercial property owners to revitalize Camp Bowie Boulevard, attributed much of the recent real estate activity on the west end of the boulevard to relatively low rents. She sees the hardware store as a good fit for the area.

“Ace makes sense with everything that’s going on,” she says, citing a desire by residents to have a greater sense of community.

“And these neighborhoods are turning over. The people who are living in these houses need these amenities.”