EDNA – While other hardware and lumber stores have come and gone and a major big-box retailer dominated the city’s retail market for 36 years, Westhoff Mercantile Co. has held strong as an iconic shop in the community for more than a century.
The store, which consists of a lumberyard, hardware store and gift shop, is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year. August Ernest Westhoff, 71, is a fifth-generation owner. His great-great-grandfather, William Westhoff, opened the business in 1889.
When Walmart opened in 1982 in Edna, there were seven hardware stores, including Westhoff Mercantile Co. That store’s business stayed steady while Walmart was open and increased when the large retailer closed in July. Since then, Westhoff Mercantile has expanded its inventory.
“Our longevity has kept us open,” Westhoff said. “They know we’re going to be here and take care of them and (have good) customer service. The biggest complaint I hear about Lowe’s and Home Depot is you can’t get anyone to wait on you. That’s not the way we want it here.”
Don Sachtleben, 72, moved to Edna from Austin in 1971 and has been a regular customer of Westhoff since, he said. He started shopping there because his wife’s parents shopped at the store.
Sachtleben said the Westhoff store has stayed successful by making adjustments to provide needed product lines or items for specialty projects that the big-box stores don’t offer.
In 1988, Sachtleben bought all the materials to remodel his home from Westhoff Mercantile Co., and more than 30 years later, the materials are still like new, he said.
“The material is as good now as the day we put it in. We’ve had no problems at all. The house is still in great shape,” he said. “If I want to have it repainted, they still have the colors on file and can mix it exactly like before.”
About 50 years ago, there were three lumberyards in Edna; now, Westhoff Mercantile Co. is the only one left, Westhoff said.
The owner began working at the store about 60 years ago when he was in the seventh grade. After attending Sam Houston State University, he came back home to work at the store again and later became a manager. He took on ownership of the store when his father died of cancer at age 62 in 1983.
“It was scary at first to take over the store – learning how to order and keep the inventory,” he said.
Westhoff is more involved at the store than his great-grandfather, grandfather and father were, who mostly left the day-to-day duties of running the business to managers. Instead, the fifth-generation owner is there every day at 8 a.m. and stays until after the store closes.
“I enjoyed working here when I was a kid, and it was fun to meet folks. Back then, you practically knew everyone in town. I just enjoyed it,” he said. “Next year, I’ll have been here full-time for 50 years. About 60 years altogether.”
In 1989, Westhoff and his wife, Judy Westhoff, 70, decided to start a gift shop at the store called Finishing Touch. The shop now is a large part of the business and takes up three rooms, selling clothes, totes, purses, jewelry, crosses and more.
“I said, ‘You know, we need more customers. We need something to attract the ladies. They control all the money anyways – might as well have them come in here,’” he said.
About 11 years ago, Westhoff’s daughter, Elizabeth Simons, 44, of Inez, moved back to the Crossroads from Austin with her husband, Travis Simons, and their two children. She took over the gift shop from her mother and is now the manager. Simons is the sixth generation to work at the store, and if her 12-year-old daughter chooses to work there when she’s older, she will be the seventh generation.
“She likes to be here. She loves to work the cash register, and when we have new products, she likes to help me put them out,” Simons said. “She loves to be right in the middle of it, helping me. She’s good help. I think she’s going to be an interior designer.”
Westhoff’s great-great- grandfather came to the U.S. from Germany and worked in New York City until he saved up enough to move to Indianola. He opened a lumberyard there that was destroyed by the 1875 hurricane and later reopened his business, which was destroyed again by another hurricane in 1886. He then opened a lumberyard in Cuero and Yorktown before opening one in Edna in 1889.
Now, his great-great-grandson continues to run the business, and he is visited several times a day by friends and customers and accompanied by his granddaughter’s 5-year-old Yorkie, Prissy, in the business office.
“This business has provided me a living and my family a living,” he said. “People come in and find me ... Everyone knows I’ll be here.”