LEXINGTON — Tonya Lovell’s knack for running small-town businesses is in her genes.
Her parents ran a mom-and-pop gas and service station when she was growing up in La Grande, Ore.
She and her husband, Rick Lovell, 60, bought and expanded a general store in Toledo 25 years ago. The town took them in “as one of their own,” she recalls.
Now, the couple have taken over another homegrown store — the former Lexington Hardware, at 1503 West Side Highway.
Working in a small town means building personal relationships with customers, said Lovell, 56. “You know everybody’s kids, and everybody’s families. They walk in and you ask them how so-and-so’s doing.”
“And that’s what we want to bring here,” Lovell said Thursday at the Lexington location, renamed Lexington Hardware and Feed. “Even though the big city (Longview) is just a mile away, you don’t feel it.”
The store carries tools, hardware, paint, gardening supplies, sporting and home improvement goods and other merchandise. And they’ve also brought Greg Moore, former owner of Greg’s Gardens in Longview, out of retirement to run the store’s nursery.
The Lovells, who live in Winlock, started looking for another store to run about two years ago.
“We really enjoy our (Toledo) store. We have a great crew up there,” Tonya Lovell said. “We felt like we had time to put into something else, too.”
But it wasn’t until September when Tyler Johnson, who owns Lexington Hardware, heard they were interested in buying and called the Lovells. They took over the lease in December and have been splitting their time between the two stores since. The couple hopes to fully own Lexington Hardware and Feed by April.
They’ve brought in animal feed and will add hay and alfalfa soon, too. They’re expanding inventory in general and plan to bring in a lumber section, Lovell said.
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They’re also retaining the store’s two employees, an assistant manager and a salesman, as well as adding Moore.
Moore, 61, is the former owner of Greg’s Gardens, which closed in February after a 16-year run in Longview. Its new owners demolished the building in September.
Moore moved to his home state of California to retire, but it didn’t last. He missed running the nursery.
“Retirement was boring,” he said. “If you’re a doer and a worker, which I’ve always been ... then you don’t sit down well.”
Moore noticed Lexington Hardware was under new ownership after moving back, so he met the Lovells on their first day running the store and asked for a job. He’s now running their nursery part-time.
“We hit it off right away,” Moore said. “Everything meshed. It all went together.”
Business is picking up, Lovell said, but they’re especially excited for spring. Moore said he’s been “pulling strings” to get certain hard-to-find trees and plants in stock by the time the weather warms up.
They’ll have a spring open house party on March 14, which the owners hope to hold annually. There will be a barbecue, raffles and giveaways.
Moore returns to Cowlitz County with four decades of horticulture experience. He said he differentiates himself from big-box chains by offering harder-to-find, locally grown perennials and other plants and products.
And he hopes to offer a personal touch: Buying from a nursery should have a dash of discovery and curiosity, he said.
“To me, it’s all about fun,” Moore said. “It’s not like shopping for a car, or shopping for a house — things people have to have. These are things people want.”
He said he now has a three-minute commute and gets to spend his afternoons with his grandchildren after work.
“Pinch me,” he joked. “I don’t want to wake up. This is a good dream.”
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