The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff is telling us about Gee’s Hardware which was a mainstay in Lowell for 50 years. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
For over fifty years Gee’s Hardware was a fixture in Lowell. Owner Merle William Gee’s motto was “If we don’t have it, we’ll get it for you.” His goal was to operate a first class hardware store dealing in merchandise of quality and giving prompt and courteous service.
Gee’s Hardware anchored the west end of the Lyon block beginning in 1914. The buildings on this block are the most architecturally unified in Lowell. In 1883 John and Maria Giles purchased the corner lot and constructed a grocery store. After Giles Grocery the building became Scott Hardware, Gee’s Hardware, Riverside Fireplace Shop, Cousins’ Hallmark Shop and now is home to LowellArts.
In 1926, Merle’s son James J. Gee became manager of the store. The store itself was unique and used new ideas. All of the fixtures in the store were made by the store’s staff.
In 1937, James sought a solution to properly display farm goods in order to efficiently serve the farming community. He opened a department in the basement just for farmers. The display room was 50 X 20 feet and was called simply, ‘Basement Store’. While he added new merchandise, much of it was already in stock, but had been displayed in random places. Separating all the farm products made things more convenient for both the shoppers and the staff. The basement even had a cash register for quicker check out. The in store freight elevator made handling heavy merchandise an easy task.
Gee’s Hardware added a unique feature to the west side exterior of the store. Tourists were always stopping to ask directions so a map of the area with an arrow indicating the exact location of Gee’s store was painted on the outside.
The entire town was shocked and grieved with the Gee family when James died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1951. Merle loved his store and worked faithfully as his health permitted. To celebrate his 50 years in business, neighbor Cary Stiff organized a salute to Gee. Ball Floral did a beautiful window display and fellow merchants stopped in all day to offer a salute. He died on Monday, May 3, 1965. Though Gee had been in failing health for a while and had help running the store, he had been in the store the Saturday before his death.
One fun fact regarding Merle Gee is that he was most likely the only Lowell Businessman at Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Service in England.
Though he had lived elsewhere and had traveled the world, Merle Gee loved Lowell. He said of Lowell, “Lowell is a successful town and a good place to live. The people of this community are neighbors in the fullest sense and have always shown a willingness to “standby” in times of general distress and individual sorrow. May they always prosper.”