The ‘family business’: Danner’s changes ownership

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Mike Danner has always been good at putting things together. When a customer comes into his hardware store with a plumbing problem or some other complication; he has the ability to find the different pieces that the customer needs in order to fix the problem.

He’s spent years putting other things together, as well.

As a teenager he envisioned some type of festival or event that the residents of the Vevay community could be proud of – and using the momentum created by the Sesquicentennial in 1963, he pushed the community to keep that same enthusiasm – and the Swiss Wine Festival was born.

He also sees the beauty is small elements of nature, and has the talent to take those elements and create great works of art with his brush and canvas.

He can help you with paintings – and he can help you with paint.

It’s all in a day’s work for Mike Danner, and – after more than 50 years in the hardware business at the corner of Ferry and Pike streets in Vevay – this Sunday he will officially move on to the next phase of his life – retirement and a little relaxation.

Danner’s Hardware, the longest continually operating business on the same site in the entire state, will change hands this Sunday when Devin and Chastity Scudder assume ownership from Mike and Anita Danner and begin their own tradition of a family business serving the community.

It’s quite a legacy to live up to, because the business has operated since 1838; and Mike Danner has spent much of his life running the same business that his grandfather, A.V. Danner; and his father, Emmett Danner; ran before him.

And now, has he sits on a sofa in the furniture section of the store and looks around at all that has found its way into the store, he is confident that it is time for a change.

“Devin Scudder will take over the business, and it’s the first time that the business has been really sold since 1838,” Mike Danner said. “It started as a business in 1838 by the Schencks and it got handed down and transferred through the family to the Danners in 1897.”

Mike Danner said that his grandfather, A.V. Danner worked for the Schencks before assuming ownership of the business, working in the store up into his 80s.

“He had been in business for over 50 years and got the first gold hammer,” Mike Danner said of his grandfather. “Then my father came in as a young man, probably in the 20s somewhere, I’m not really sure when. And he worked until he was in his 80s. Then he suffered a stroke and still stayed here awhile after that, but then wasn’t able to come in anymore. About that time Anita and I took over the store. I’ve got over 50 years in now.”

The hardware business has been a way of life for Mike Danner, and when he married Anita and she moved to Vevay more than 27 years ago, she retired from her job in Louisville and was going to serve as the store’s bookkeeper one day a week.

“That turned into seven days a week,” Mike Danner smiled. “She’s worked hard. She’s been a big influence in helping here. We’ve had a good business.”

Mike Danner knows that Danner’s Hardware has been through good times and bad; sharing stories that his father told him about surviving during The Depression and other times.

“They hung in there and sold what they could,” Mike Danner said. “Each day they had some receipts that weren’t much some days, but they made it through that. They survived. They survived the ’37 Flood and we’ve gone through wars here, from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and all the other wars, and they still maintained a business in hard times and good times.”

As he looks back over three generations in business in Vevay, Mike Danner is also quick to point out that he was always taught that he also needed to be a part of the community as well.

“It wasn’t all about making money, it was about being a part of the community and helping out people,” he said quietly. “I’ll miss that part of it, I really will. I like selling merchandise and putting it out and displaying it. I’ve liked being here, but it’s come to a time when it’s time for me to step down. We need a young man in here.”

Mike Danner said that a big part of the success of Danner’s through the years has been the employees. He said that he’s been blessed with good help, and after spending hours and days together in the store, employees become like family.

“You work with them all day long and you kid and you joke and you sweat with them, and in the wintertime you get cold when it’s cold, but they’re part of your family.”

Other than spending a year at Indiana University, Mike Danner has always been around the hardware store. He grew up only living a block away from the store; and remembers that when he became big enough to fire a furnace and sweep the store and clean, he went to work.

“I remember being here as a kid and my grandfather would sit by an old stove that was in the middle of the stove in the winter time, and men would come in and they’d sit around the stove and have spittoons, and they would sit there and talk and tell stories about farming and different things. I always wondered how they got anything done, but he was older then and he had time to sit around.”

Mike Danner said that his grandfather would walk from his house on Greeley Avenue up to the store with his cane every morning – until a young Bill Olds, who came to work at the store as a teenager, when he got his driver’s license had the duty of going and picking up A.V. Danner and bringing him to the store each day.

Mike’s grandmother, Effie Danner, was very involved in history, and saved all sorts of papers from the store from the beginning; as well as being a big part of the county museum and genealogy.

Her impact was seen during this past weekend, as Danner’s held an auction for antiques and other items in the store - many for nearly 200 years.

“I thought I knew every inch of this store,” Mike Danner said. “But we found all sorts of things. It was hard to let some of those things go, but we had family in from all over and that made it easier. We saw things being sold that had a lot of personal history for us because we’d seen them all our lives.”

Mike Danner also had praise for the community that he loves and has spend his life in.

“It’s a good community,” he said. “As a young man, I was always told that you’ve got to leave this place better than you found it. I’ve tried to do that here because I love this town.”

With retirement comes the opportunity to pursue his passion for art and painting, and Mike Danner is looking forward to seeing where that takes him in the coming years.

“When I was 60 my wife asked me what I wanted to do for my 60th birthday, and I told her that I wanted the time to paint and the materials that I need to get going at it,” Mike Danner said. “When I first started my dad told me that I would be a starving artist, and I probably would have been, but now I’ve got someone like Meredith Luhrs who has taken me and helped me and encouraged me along the way.”

His paintings are now featured in businesses around the area; and Mike says that he draws great pleasure from seeing the reaction of those who view his art.

“This world is God’s creation, and painting is my interpretation of what God has already created, and I put that down on canvas,” he says.

He says that he’s retired from helping with the Wine Festival, then smiles and admits that he’s still involved to a degree; and he also points to his commitment to Kiwanis Club and its projects as work that he feels good about. Mike Danner also finds satisfaction and peace with his commitment to Switzerland Baptist Church, where he serves as a deacon and hopes to find more time to dedicate to his church in the coming years.

But with all that he has in front of him, turning off the lights at the family business on Saturday will be a hard thing, but Mike Danner knows that – like all things – it’s time.

“Devin’s a good young man and the store needs a young man running it, and he’s got some ideas that he’s excited about and I think he’ll do fine with it,” Mike Danner says. “We want to do some other things and travel, specifically I want to paint pictures and do things with the church. I’ll have more time to do more of those things; but it’s hard to walk out of here and say, ‘This isn’t my store’, because I’ve lived here all my life.”

A life that now sees new challenges.

- Pat Lanman