ASHLAND – It was the biggest ribbon cutting ceremony Ashland had seen for many years.
“I’ve had lots of support,” said Sandy Lemon last Thursday as she celebrated buying Ashland’s only hardware store by slicing a yellow ribbon with an oversized pair of scissors. She was flanked by members of the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce and family and friends Thursday as she marked the bittersweet milestone.
Sandy signed the papers on Thursday without her husband, Larry, by her side, but with dozens of people there to support her as she marked the event.
Larry and Sandy had been planning since last summer to buy the hardware store formerly known as C&L Hardware from Dean and Mila Curtis of Ashland. Those plans were altered when Larry passed away from COVID-19 complications on Jan. 22.
Larry had been working at the store since 2012. He was known for his friendly attitude, conversational skills and the ability to quickly track down any item for a shopper.
In the last few years, Larry had started to think about buying the store with his wife.
“This was his dream,” Sandy said.
Last year they began preparations, but the COVID-19 pandemic put things on hold. Larry stayed home from work from March until September to keep away from the public. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had damaged one lung and partially impaired the other, making him susceptible to the infection.
Last fall he felt it was safe to come back to work and he started getting all of the paperwork ready for the Jan. 1 turnover date.
“He did all the leg work,” Sandy said.
The couple was all set to finalize the papers on Dec. 29, but a snow storm postponed the signing until Jan. 4.
On Dec. 30, Sandy took Larry to the hospital, where he was tested for COVID-19. The test was positive. He stayed in the hospital for five days.
After being home for a few days, Larry began to experience tightness in his chest. He was readmitted to the hospital and put in the COVID unit, where he could not have visitors.
Sandy said after 20 days in the COVID unit Larry was put in a regular room and she spent two full days with him. Just a short time after she got home from her last visit, the hospital called her back because Larry was not doing well.
Larry struggled to breathe, Sandy said, and his heart rate skyrocketed while his oxygen level plummeted. Morphine helped calm his heart, but Larry’s scarred lungs could not handle the pneumonia caused by COVID-19. He passed away with Sandy by his side, minutes before his daughters could get to the hospital.
When she was ready, Sandy called her attorney to determine the status of the sale. He told her that the paperwork was written in such a way that the property went to the surviving spouse.
“’The store is yours,’ he said,” Sandy remembered.
The original plan was for Larry to run the hardware store with his daughter, Jessica James. Sandy was going to stay at her job with the Nebraska Community Blood Bank in Lincoln for about a year and then join them.
But with Larry’s death, Sandy’s plans changed.
“I thought I can’t work two jobs and I can’t dump it all on (Jessica),” she said.
So she quit the blood bank and is now working in the store. She’ll run the cash register, talk to customers and generally be the “face” of S&L Hardware.
“I’m going to be on the floor helping people,” she said.
Above the door, a picture of Larry by himself and one of him with Sandy are displayed, along with a plaque that says, “S&L Hardware, established 2021. Soon, a special rocking chair will sit by the front door with a plaque that says, “In Loving Memory of Larry Lemon.” The couple had ordered it from Yoder’s Amish Furniture in Greenwood before Larry died. Now it will sit by the front door in his honor.
These are the only changes Sandy plans at the store for now. She will keep the same hours and some of the same employees. Longtime employee Chris Gossin will remain with the store and former owner Dean Curtis will continue to work part-time for a while.
“We’re pretty much keeping it as it is,” Sandy said.
Since last Thursday’s ribbon cutting ceremony, Sandy said many people have come into the store and shared memories of Larry, how much he did for them in and out of the store, and how much they will miss him.
“It’s heartwarming knowing he had such an impact on everyone,” she added.