Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bygone Business: Case's Hardware

C. W. Case (right) in front of his store about 1905 (Rochester Hills Public Library)
A Main Street fixture for well over three quarters of a century, Case's Hardware stood at 335 S. Main from 1890-1968, but the company's roots in Rochester go back even further.  The business that most twentieth century residents of Rochester knew as Case's began in 1872 when a Civil War veteran named Joseph Reimer opened a hardware store on the east side of Main. In 1885, Reimer built a brand-new brick building to house his store at 418 S. Main (the location of today's Sumo Sushi restaurant), and shortly thereafter retired and sold the hardware to his son, Cyrus. Cyrus ran the store with the help of his partner and brother-in-law for a while, but was busy working out of town as a traveling representative for an implement manufacturer, so he sold his Rochester hardware to Harvey J. Taylor in 1888.

Taylor, who quickly decided that he did not want to continue paying rent in the Reimer building, began to scout around for a new location and settled upon a lot across the street and down a block, at 335 S. Main. Here he built a two-story brick structure in 1890, with a salesroom on the first floor and warehouse space and a tin shop on the second floor.  For the next half-century, the second-floor metal shop would be the domain of tinsmith Alexander Rose.

In 1889, just before the construction of his new building, Taylor had hired his sister Charlotte's young son, Charles Wallace Case, to work in the hardware store. Fresh off the farm and nineteen years old,  C. W. Case learned his uncle's business and ten years later, in 1899, formed a partnership with H. Frank Stone to purchase the Taylor store.  At that time, the business became known as Stone and Case, but after only a few months Stone sold his interest in the store to William Tienken, and the firm changed its name to Tienken and Case.  When William Tienken decided to go into the plumbing and heating business on his own in 1915, Case bought him out and the store became known as the C. W. Case Hardware. Meanwhile, William Tienken built a new store right next door at 333 S. Main to house his plumbing and heating business.

C. W. Case was a civic-minded merchant who served as Rochester village president and held a number of other political offices.  He was also well known for one of his best-loved hobbies, that of raising purebred poultry.  In 1912, he received international attention when his pair of purebred Buff Cochins won a championship for pairs held at Madison Square Garden in New York.  He proudly displayed a picture of this winning pair of chickens on the wall of the hardware store for many years.

Case operated the store until his death in 1944, but by that time his son, Mason, had taken over as manager because of the elder Case's declining health.  Mason Case succeeded his father as owner of the hardware store and the business remained in family hands until the building was destroyed by fire on December 12, 1968.

In its day, Case's filled important needs for the citizens of the Rochester area. The service provided was personal; my father recalls that if he needed three nails, he could go to Case's and they would happily sell him three nails, not a box of 100. Case's Hardware belonged to an era when merchants concentrated on serving customers more than on moving merchandise, and for that it is ever fondly remembered.


  1. As a 10 year old kid, just before Christmas, 1963, I wanted to buy my mother a special Christmas present. Dad dropped me off at Case's—because they had everything—and I found a 'silver' set of salt and pepper shakers. I can still see the decorations along Main Street (the red bells and blinking lights that mimicked a ringing motion) as I clutched Mom's special gift waiting for Dad to pick me up. It always brings a smile to recall every holiday meal after that and her 'silver' shakers from Case's Hardware prominently displayed on our table.

    1. I always think of those ringing motion bells with lights strung across the road when I think of Christmas in Rochester.

  2. I remember going to Case's with my dad in 1962 to buy a Frigidaire washer. The appliance section was upstairs. It wasn't until 1963 or so when "Highland Appliance" at Pontiac Mall opened that you could have selection among numerous brands!