Many seasoned businesses in Groton are family pursuits, and Johnson’s Hardware is no different. For almost 90 years, the Johnson family has persisted in keeping this business thriving as an integral part of the Groton community. Johnson’s is currently owned by William (Bill) Johnson, grandson of original proprietor William A. Johnson, and has seen the business through many changes.
William A. Johnson and Lulu May Johnson opened the store in 1922, and started it as a gas station called KUM-SEE-ME. Run by Lulu, the business evolved over the years into a grocery store, an ice cream shop, a butcher shop and eventually, the hardware and gift store known as Johnson’s True Value Hardware.
“One day, the Wonder Bread guy stopped and asked Mom if she’d want to sell some bread and rolls," Bill Johnson says. "She said 'No,' but he left them anyway. They sold over the weekend and that’s when we went into the grocery business.”
The grocery store did well, and had a butcher shop that slaughtered an occasional bear and moose. But Bill’s father, who took over the store, had a passion for hardware. He opened a hardware section in the basement, and it grew into a 16,000-square-foot store.
Bill Johnson stocked shelves occasionally, but mostly attended school and played baseball and basketball. Then, two weeks after graduation from Fitch High School in 1961, he was inducted into the family business. Johnson is now celebrating his 50th year with the store.
His fondest memories were spending time with his grandmother, he says, attending double headers at Yankee Stadium and watching fast-pitch softball on Friday nights at Washington Park in Groton. He reminisces about riding his bike around town safely and freely, a rite of passage he laments is no longer available to his grandchildren.
In 1981, tragedy struck as Johnson’s Hardware caught fire because of faulty wiring. The store contained highly-combustible products, and required 11 fire trucks to control the blaze. The store burned to the ground.
Driving toward the inferno with his wife, Cindy, around midnight, Bill Johnson recalls saying, “If those aren’t clouds, we’re in trouble.”
But two hours after the fire, he and his father were already planning the new building. It was up and running the following year.
Now, Bill Johnson handles much of the business, Cindy Johnson runs a boutique within the store, and their son is working on developing Johnson’s growing ebay and Amazon business.
Bill Johnson has no plans to retire, and clearly thrives in his work environment. He brings his easy-going demeanor to the store and enjoys his regular customers, who he says are like family. He believes his customers appreciate a different experience than they might receive at a big box store.
During last year’s record flooding, his son, William Johnson, Jr., drove to Pennsylvania and New Hampshire to bring back pumps for desperate locals. Customers were invited to come and share their woes at Johnson’s over coffee and doughnuts while waiting for the equipment.
“When disasters happen and then we can take care of the community, it's what brings us together,” Bill Johnson says. “People count on us, and we go out of our way.”