History of the  West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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Riverside Hardware and the Luekens Family
By Gary Swilik

Jack LuekensJohn "Jack" Luekens passed away on December 18, 2011, at 82 years of age. Jack is remembered fondly by many West Parkers who were customers of Riverside Hardware at Kamm's Corners. Four generations of the Luekens Family ran the store. Hundreds of do-it-yourselfers came to the shop for help with home repairs and always left with good advice.
Riverside Hardware was a classic example of the type of neighborhood hardware that flourished in the era before big discount stores changed the way America shops. A vast array of neatly organized merchandise filled the shelves, ready to meet every need of the professional or amateur handyman. There were tools of all kinds, a variety of paints and varnishes, brushes, rollers, scrapers, glass, screens, storm windows and doors, nails and screws (sold by the pound), electrical and plumbing equipment, pipe, wire, locks, stoves, home appliances, lawn mowers, lawn and garden products, fertilizers, weed killers, outdoor barbeques, even pet supplies. They also offered a home delivery and repair service, traveling the neighborhood to fix windows, screens, wiring and plumbing. The company van was a familiar sight on West Park streets.
The Luekens Family has a long history in the hardware business. Jack Lueken's grandfather, William F. Luekens, the son of German immigrants, was born and raised on the west side. In 1886 he started with the W. Bingham Company, one of the largest wholesale hardware firms in the area, and worked there until his retirement 55 years later.
In 1922, William and his son, Walter F. Luekens (father of Jack), bought a hardware store at 17219 Lorain Avenue at Kamm's Corners in West Park, on the site of what is now the Public House restaurant. The hardware store they purchased had apparently been in business at that location as early as 1915 although it's unclear if it was called "Riverside Hardware" before the Luekens bought it.

store with Luekens in front
John Luekens, with tie and no hat. Others unidentified. Riverside Hardware, 17015 Lorain Avenue.
Undated. Courtesy of Debra Luekens.

In 1927, the Luekens Family moved their hardware store 185 yards east to a different building at 17015 Lorain Avenue where it became a neighborhood landmark. Jack Luekens was born in 1929, and grew up working with his father at the store. Jack's daughter, Lynn Luekens-Persinger, picks up the story.
"Riverside Hardware was operated by my family for over 60 years," says Lynn. "My grandfather Walter was a humble Christian and honest business man. Born in 1894, he was the first of twelve brothers and sisters. He loved to be with his family and serve the church. Walter worked at the store from his late 20s until his retirement. The business was then run by my father Jack, my Uncle William A. "Auggie," and my grand-uncle, William P. "Paulie. They all seemed to enjoy working together as a family."
"My dad (Jack) was born blind in one eye and completely lost his sight in 1951 at age 22," explains Lynn. "In 1952, dad went to The Seeing Eye school, in Morristown, New Jersey, where he received his first guide dog, a boxer. He walked to work everyday, from Woodbury Avenue to the hardware store, with his dog leading the way. He knew every repeat customer as they came through the back door just by the sound of their voice, and he knew where everything was in the store."
"The family ate their lunch at the hardware," Lynn remembers. "There was always a gallon pickle jar in the fridge and a tin of cookies on the table. You brought a sandwich and lunch was complete. In the cold months, my dad put his sandwich on top of the boiler. By lunchtime it was toasty! My dad recalled his uncle throwing a bucket down the stairs to let him know lunchtime was over. The Christmas sale started the day after Thanksgiving. In the early years, they sold a lot of household items. Dad remembered selling irons, blenders, coffee pots, sleds, even toys. Kmart was not around yet."

store with flag
Riverside Hardware, 17015 Lorain Avenue. Undated. Courtesy of Debra Luekens.

"Originally the hardware was a single storefront but it doubled in size when they bought the bakery next door (Holmok Bakery) in the 1960s," Lynn says. "My dad recalled that on Saturday they would go to the bakery, collect the unsold items, and drive them to The Lutheran Home in Westlake so they wouldn't go to waste. My dad's family knew just about every merchant at Kamm's Corner. I remember my dad going to Gino's Shoe Repair. He would just take off his shoes right there and Gino would repair them. Eliseo Biagiotti the barber, Doc Scott, Boulevard Watch and Clock Repair, and the people at the bank were all familiar faces."
"When I was a teenager I worked there summers and weekends," says Lynn, "as did my brothers and cousins. Waiting on customers, running the old fashioned cash register, stocking shelves, cutting glass, and making deliveries. There was a wonderful old creaky wood floor. And I loved the hardware smell as you walked in the door! I can still smell it when I walk into an old hardware store."

Riverside Hardware, 17015 Lorain Avenue. Undated. Courtesy of Debra Luekens.

Free expert advice came with every sale. The team at Riverside Hardware provided guidance to help customers solve their own repair problems, from technical issues with wiring to the best tool for the job. "One of the most valuable services we provided customers was advice," Lynn agrees. "I inherited my dad's workbench and I still love just tinkering when I get the chance."
"The hardware store was a real anchor in the lives of our family," says Lynn's cousin, Jeffrey Luekens, son of William A. Luekens. "I was one of many Luekens teenagers who worked at Riverside Hardware. I worked there from 1962 to 1966 during my freshman and senior high school years. I remember my starting pay was minimum wage, one-dollar-and-ten-cents an hour. I enjoyed helping my Uncle Jack unload the fertilizer, paint, and concrete mix that was delivered to the store. It had to be stored either downstairs or in the warehouse out back. The muscles in my legs still remember carrying those large bags up the warehouse steps. All of that lifting helped build up my strength for football although my Uncle Jack could lift twice as much as me."
"I enjoyed the tasks in the basement such as cutting glass and threading pipe," Jeffrey continues. "And I liked driving the red Riverside Hardware van around the area making deliveries. 'Riverside Hardware' was painted on the side in white letters. I think it had the Sherwin-Williams Paint logo on it as well. And the name of the Sherwin-Williams salesman was 'Bob Painting.' Talk about the right name for the job!"

Walter Luekens, father of John at left. Man on right may be Waldemar "Red" Schmidt,
uncle to John Luekens. Riverside Hardware, 17015 Lorain Avenue.
Undated. Courtesy of Debra Luekens.

"I got the feeling the people who worked there enjoyed it," says Jeffrey. "My Uncle Bill (Paulie) and my Uncle Jack would play tricks on me and the other high school workers. I remember being sent downstairs for a left handed screwdriver. And I remember when they inserted an electric cord into a regular carving knife to see if anyone would buy an 'electric carving knife.'"
"Like Lynn, I found the basement of the store fascinating.," Jeffrey goes on. "The wooden steps were all worn down in the middle from years of use. We did an annual inventory of every item in the store, and I still remember listing those long-ago items that were never sold. We still had a few buggy whips on the shelves when I worked there."

"I think the store hit peak profits in the 1950s," Jeffery tells us, "and slowly started making less money  in the 1960s with the coming of discount stores like Uncle Bill's. I recall my dad being discouraged by customers who came in to our store for advice, and then went to Uncle Bills to buy bigger ticket items."

"I'm sure economics played a big part in their decision to leave the business," adds Lynn. "Not to mention the growth of 'big box' stores such as Home Depot. Also, at the time there was no one to pass the business down to."  

In the mid 1980s, the Luekens Family sold Riverside Hardware to a new owner. "A man named Joe  and his wife bought the merchandise, customer clientele, and store name, but not the building" Lynn explains. "I think Joe saw the store as an interesting opportunity for a career change. Basically my dad (Jack) retired after that. My Uncle Bill (William A.) stayed on for a while to help out. But the new owner kept the business going for a relatively short time.ad
By January 1991, the new owner was liquidating the hardware's remaining merchandise, inventory, and office equipment in a final clearance sale. The Riverside Hardware was no more. The Luekens Family sold the building in December 1992.

When Jack Luekens passed away in December 2011, he was the last surviving member of the Luekens Family to have spent virtually his entire working life at Riverside Hardware. At the news of his death,  those who remembered Jack from his years at the hardware posted reminiscences on local websites.
Linda Ryan, of Elyria, Ohio, wrote "I grew up on Larchwood Avenue and would see Jack with his guide dog on Rocky River Drive nearly everyday. He was familiar to almost everyone, even those who didn't know exactly who he was. Jack Luekens was a West Park icon in my book."

"Life comes full circle and it's a small world," wrote Krist Guardi of Cleveland, now a Registered Nurse at The Lutheran Home in Westlake. "When I was a little girl I used to see Jack Luekens at the hardware store all the time. I remember playing with his guide dog. Then I helped care for him at the end of his life. Jack was such a fine man."

Today the former Riverside Hardware is host to crowds of diners as West Park Station, a popular restaurant which has played a big part in the revitalization of Kamm's Corners. The space that was once lined with rows of tools, electrical equipment and plumbing supplies is now filled with booths, tables, chairs, and a spacious bar.

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Updated 2 July 2014