Neeb’s Hardware has been in Old Gretna for 105 years. But this month, it’s closing for good. | News

The bell atop the door at Neeb’s Hardware in Gretna rang every few minutes Wednesday morning, each chime cheerfully announcing the arrival of another customer.

Some were looking for a tool or fixture, others for advice on a repair project.







Customers walk into Neeb’s Hardware in Gretna, La., Thursday, April 7, 2022. The Gretna hardware store will close after over 100 years in operation. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




But all were there to say goodbye.

After 105 years in downtown Gretna, Neeb’s Hardware is closing its doors later this month.

The store lasted through two world wars, a depression and several recessions. But it wasn’t the coronavirus pandemic that finally closed the book on a local institution that opened in 1917.

In the end, Ken Donewar just needed a little time off.

“It just comes to a point where you say to yourself, ‘I’m ready,’” said Donewar, who has owned Neeb’s since the 1978, but has worked there since his father bought it from the original owner in 1957.

And for almost all of the last five decades, Donewar, 71, has run the store by himself, 10 hours a day, six days a week. If it’s open – and it almost always is – he’s there.







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Customers stop in to talk to owner Ken Donewar before he retires at Neeb’s Hardware in Gretna, La., Thursday, April 7, 2022. The Gretna hardware store will close after over 100 years in operation. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




When Donewar’s father bought the store, the deal required them to keep the name for three years. When the time came, it was so firmly ensconsed in Gretna’s history, they just kept it.

But now?

“He’s Mr. Neeb. Nobody knows what our last name is,” Ken’s wife, Debbie, said, exaggerating a bit. “They call me Mrs. Neeb and I say, ‘Hey, howya doin?”

Customers Wednesday all sounded a familiar refrain about Neeb’s.

“It’s the personal attention,” said Rich Robbins, who’s been coming since he bought a house in Algiers a few years back. “You go in there with a question and he knows exactly what you need. And if he doesn’t have it, he knows where to go.







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Owner Ken Donewar talks to customers at Neeb’s Hardware in Gretna, La., Thursday, April 7, 2022. The Gretna hardware store will close after over 100 years in operation. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




“It’s a great place, and it’s real sad that it won’t be here anymore.”

“Business wise, it really stinks,” said customer Donnie Pritt, who has known Donewar for years. “I could come in here and get what I needed in five or 10 minutes.

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“And as friends, I’m gonna miss him,” Pritt said, just moments after the two had just finished ribbing one another over some cast iron pans Pritt was coveting. “But don’t let him know that.”

One customer dropped in to ask what she could do about a small chip in the porcelain coating of an antique cast iron infant’s bathtub. The last place she brought offered to refinish it for $300. Donewar recommended a small tube of touch-up paint and suggested several coats.

The price? Just $3.81, after the 30% discount.







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Keys cover a board at Neeb’s Hardware in Gretna, La., Thursday, April 7, 2022. The Gretna hardware store will close after over 100 years in operation. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




Donewar said he plans to hang onto the antique Burroughs adding machine and Fairbanks Morse scale that still passes state inspection every year and is used to weigh bulk nails.

Then a customer inquires about a vintage board festooned with various Eagle brand screws, each labeled for customers to reference.

“I haven’t made up my mind about whether or not I want to keep that,” he admitted.

The inventory, on the other hand, “I’m not too sentimental about,” he said. “Now it’s just like, I have to get rid of it.”

Staying in business hasn’t always been easy.







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An old photograph depicts a vehicle with Neeb’s Hardware on the side in Gretna, La., Thursday, April 7, 2022. The Gretna hardware store will close after over 100 years in operation. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




“There have been some lean years,” he said. “It’s been hard to compete with the big boys. It comes to a point where you learn that if you’re gonna stay with the business, you just watch your prices and the type of product you have.”

With Debbie retiring from her job as an accountant at the end of the month, the Donewars are thinking they’ll try to travel more in their free time. For decades, they would only get away for a few days over the Fourth of July weekend, and only in recent years starting closing the store for a week every now and then.

“I’d like to visit the National Parks, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, those kinda places,” Donewar said. Debbie notes there are grandchildren to see in Houma and Florida.

The Donewars put the building on the market about five months ago. Real estate is booming in Old Gretna, and the only delay in selling Lafayette Street building, which sits just blocks from the Mississippi River levee, were the Donewar’s hopes someone would buy the business as well, and invigorate it with some fresh ideas.

That leaves a twinge of disappointment in the decision to call it quits.

“There was a lot of interest in the property, but nobody really wanted the business,” he said. “I guess, financially, it wasn’t what they felt it could be.”

The building’s new owner, a wedding planning and event coordinator in Belle Chasse, plans to open a flower shop there called Stem Studio. 

“I felt kinda bad about it, but then me and my wife talked about it and we decided, well, maybe it’s time for something different,” Donewar said. “Maybe it’s time for Neeb’s to cease and something else to carry on in its place.”

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