Since 1978, Jerry and Myrna Higgins have opened the doors to their hardware store on Main Street in Plattsmouth and provided customers with top-notch service and advice.
On Sept. 26, however, the Higgins officially turned over the keys to Higgins Hardware to its new owners, Mark and Susan Shaw, and started their first days of retirement.
Mark knows he and Susan will have “big shoes to fill.” Jerry not only waited on customers but fixed lamps, dabbled in blacksmithing and usually knew exactly what product would best suit his customers’ needs.
“We’ve been averaging 600 window and screen repairs every year over the past 20 years,” Jerry said.
The Higgins first bought the store Feb. 14, 1978. “He told me it was my Valentine’s Day present and I haven’t got another one since,” Myrna said.
Married 60 years, Myrna and Jerry orchestrated a work routine that has made the 22-foot by 140-foot hardware store a reliable and friendly place to shop for nuts and bolts, electrical items, plumbing works, lighting supplies, tools, household cleansers, yard chemicals, paint and a little bit of this and that.
“If we don’t have it we can generally get it,” Jerry said.
Myrna kept the books, prepared the taxes and managed all the clerical work. Jerry waited on the customers and fixed items brought to the store, which was started as Bestor-Swatek Hardware in 1914, then owned by William Nelson from 1971-78.
At the time the Higgins purchased it, Jerry had worked for Plattsmouth Lumber for 15 years. He was the assistant manager. Since the manager and he were about the same age, Jerry didn’t see much room for advancement in the job.
He hoped he would find a business to own someday. “I looked at automotive parts, then this popped up and we knew the people who owned it,” Jerry said.
The purchase didn’t surprise Myrna at all. “I knew he always wanted to buy a business, so in the background I had a hunch,” she said.
Myrna didn’t start bookkeeping immediately. “Mrs. (Eleanor) Nelson stayed and worked with Mr. Nelson and Jerry for two years. After that, I became full-time,” she said.
Since the purchase, Myrna and Jerry have had a variety of unusual items brought to the store in need of repair. “He just loves to take things apart and put them back together again.”
Jerry was once brought in all the parts to a lamp made overseas. He had no instructions or even a picture to follow.
“That was the biggest basket case we’d ever seen,” Myrna said.
Nonetheless, Jerry put it together. “Some parts were not the same as American parts so I used trial and error to see what fit where,” he said.
Another customer needed a horse rope put in an old hose.
“He was going to put his horse on a rope but the horse would get his hocks caught in the rope,” Jerry explained. “He wanted the rope put in the hose, but the old hose had been kinked up. I stuck a wire on the rope and pulled it through and it worked.”
They also remember the customer who brought in a pink bathroom toilet and needed the tank overhauled. He brought the whole thing in.
“So we took all the old parts out and put new ones in. He’s still using it today,” Jerry said. “We love a challenge.”
Retirement won’t be easy for this couple who so aptly reflect the work ethic the Midwest is famous for.
“Retirement is a lonely life, at least our first three days have been,” Jerry said.
“We had so much responsibility for so long, it’s tough to just draw a curtain and say, ‘We’re out of here,’” Myrna added.
They do plan, however, to travel and enjoy their leisure time together. “I want to be active and volunteer. Of course, there is always the home to take care of – grocery shopping, cleaning and laundry,” she said.
“She likes house cleaning. There is no house in Plattsmouth cleaner than ours,” Jerry said.
Both of them want to volunteer their time helping others, just as they have in the past. For example, Myrna and Jerry have collected an estimated two million pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House in Omaha. The tabs help the charity raise operational funds.
“Kids with all kinds of health problems go there. Some are there a year,” Jerry said.
“I feel so proud that I can be a part of that,” Myrna said.
Jerry has served on the Methodist Church Board of Trustees for 40 years, and he and Myrna attend two churches.
The Higgins are very thankful to their many customers in Plattsmouth and the surrounding area.
“We appreciate the customers we’ve had and the loyalty we’ve had from our customers,” Myrna said. “We’ve made many friends of our customers.”
“The people of Plattsmouth have been good to us. Plattsmouth has been more of a home to us than any other place we have lived,” Jerry said. “We’re going to miss the people. There is no doubt about it.”
They also thanked the many employees that have helped at the store over the years, including Bill Brittain, who retired from the store the same day they did.
DC’s Waterhole was the site of a special reception for Higgins and Brittain last Saturday. Friends honored them with gifts and well wishes, and Steve Riese, city council president, presented them a certificate honoring them for their many years in business.
For a month or so, the Higgins will be at the store on Saturdays in a consulting capacity. In the meantime, Mark is supplementing his 40 years of retail experience and remodeling homes by learning new skills including making keys and repairing screens.
“We want to provide service to the community and still offer the same services Myrna and Jerry did such as pipe cutting, window repair and lamp repair,” Mark said.
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