Mike Cripe, Michael Cripe, Barb Bender, and David Cripe of Whitmore Ace Hardware embody the company’s commitment to service.

Though changes abound within the Ace Hardware Corporation, one thing has remained the same for nearly a century: service to customers and community

BY VALERIE HARDY | Photos courtesy of Ace Hardware

Based out of Oak Brook, Ace Hardware Corporation aims to “be the most helpful hardware stores on the planet,” said Chris Doucet, the company’s Director of Communications, Engagement, and the Ace Foundation. Much like the brand’s longtime jingle states, Ace truly is “the place with the helpful hardware folks.”

While Ace prepares to move its corporate headquarters this summer or early fall, the business’s commitment to serving consumers and the communities surrounding its more than 5,600 stores worldwide, including over 160 retailers in the Chicagoland area, remains unchanged.

After more than 40 years at its current location, the corporation’s lease will soon expire. According to Doucet, the company explored various options and found many benefits to relocating “about a mile down the road” to the former McDonald’s corporate campus. It is cost-effective and allows the company to remain in Oak Brook, which Doucet said she and her colleagues are “thrilled about.”

The Cripe brothers with Roxie Schopp, Ace’s 2017 CMN All-Star

Another advantage of the move is that Ace’s corporate employees will all be under one roof. At the current headquarters, employees are divided between three buildings. The new location will also accommodate more workstations, conference rooms, and amenities, and employees are “looking forward to the beautiful grounds of our new campus,” Doucet said, “complete with walking trails, ponds, and more.”

Vice President of Marketing Jeff Gooding explained that Ace runs as a cooperative (co-op), which means the corporation is “owned by [the] local, independent store owners.” Unlike in a franchise system, within a co-op, each store is owned and operated individually. “The vast majority of our stores are family-owned – many of them handed down for generations,” Doucet said.

“It’s a moral obligation to give back.”

– David Cripe, Whitmore Ace Hardware Co-owner

Take, for example, the new owners of Downers Grove’s Ace Hardware store. Effective January, David and Michael Cripe, along with their parents, added this local retailer to their collection of Whitmore Ace Hardware stores, which includes 12 other suburban and rural locations. The brothers are the fifth generation in their family business, and they are primarily the ones currently operating their stores. However, although their dad is technically retired, “he still comes to the stores, touches base, shakes hands…” David Cripe said.

The Cripe brothers essentially grew up at Ace, selling Christmas trees at their family’s stores when they were about 7 years old. Now, nearly 40 years later, they “can’t imagine being associated with any other business – retail hardware – or any other company,” David Cripe said. The brothers chose to continue their family’s tradition within the Ace Hardware brand because “it mirrors our culture and what we want our culture to be at our stores: people first,” David Cripe explained.

Ace Hardware corporate employees volunteer within their communities during ACE Cares Week.

The Cripes strive to demonstrate how much they value their customers and employees. They also seek opportunities to support the greater communities surrounding their retail spaces. “It’s a moral obligation to give back,” David Cripe stated. “Every one of our towns has benefited from our wanting to give back to our community.”

One way the Cripes and their staff support their communities is through “round up campaigns.” These simply involve asking customers if they would like to round up their payment upon checkout. Any funds in excess of the purchase amount go to designated nonprofit organizations, such as the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, or Special Olympics. “Whoever the community or store has a passion for, we support that,” David Cripe said.

Whitmore Ace Hardware owners and employees also help the community by hosting “Dollars for Dogs” events. Local organizations can cook and sell hot dogs in front of an Ace store to raise money for their organizations. Ace provides all the materials, so the organizations just have to show up.

David Cripe said the minimum amount raised through one of their “Dollars for Dogs” events was $350, and he has seen upwards of $3,500. Michael Cripe added that, while their business is willing to make direct donations, events like “‘Dollars for Dogs’ give organizations and communities the chance to raise more funds – and awareness – than if they were just given a check.”

Whitmore Ace’s most distinctive fundraiser is “Melissa’s Closet,” a prom dress and accessory drive followed by a single-day event at which dresses are sold for $5 apiece. What makes “Melissa’s Closet” particularly poignant is its origins. David Cripe explained that in 2008, Melissa Michalowski, a high school senior, was working at the Whitmore Ace Hardware in Braidwood, Illinois to save up money to buy a prom dress. However, not long before her prom, Michalowski was in a fatal car accident.

Michael and David Cripe sell prom dresses for $5 at the annual Melissa’s Closet fundraiser.

Upon learning of the tragic loss of one of their own, the team at the Braidwood Ace store wanted to do something to honor Michalowski’s legacy, and with Whitmore Ace Marketing Director Laurie Becker’s assistance, the annual “Melissa’s Closet” fundraiser was born.

The first year, they collected roughly 100 dresses and outfitted approximately 20 girls. This past year, they collected 2,600 prom dresses, which dressed 600 girls from the suburbs, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. All funds raised through “Melissa’s Closet” go toward scholarships for students in need at the high school Michalowski attended.

Whitmore Ace Hardware’s philanthropic efforts reflect the corporation’s overall “servant heart,” as Doucet referred to it. “At Corporate, we have a set of values that we live by – the acronym is WE LIGHT – and it stands for Winning, Excellence, Love, Integrity, Gratitude, Humility, and Teamwork.”

Doucet is an integral part of The Ace Foundation, the charitable arm of the corporation, and explained that the Foundation exists to give Ace Hardware’s “employees, retailers, vendors, and customers an opportunity to give back to our three charitable partners/programs: Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Hospitals, the American Red Cross during disaster relief, and the Ace Helpful Fund – which is our employee emergency assistance fund.”

In 2022, Ace’s stakeholders collectively raised over $22 million for CMN Hospitals, including, locally, over $2.4 million for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “We’re a mom and pop hardware shop and out-fundraise much larger companies for Lurie’s,” David Cripe said. “It’s our culture at Ace. It’s not an afterthought to us.”

Furthering Ace’s culture of service, each year, corporate employees are granted 20 hours of paid time to volunteer within their local communities.

“It’s never just about a hardware store,” Gooding said. “It is…[about] what the store and people mean for the community it serves and…the nuts and bolts things our retailers do to better their neighborhoods.”