BURNETTSVILLE — In the fall of 1963, Ed Pritts was 24 years old. The town of Burnettsville sported four gas stations, two grocery stores, a custom cabinetry shop and a blacksmith. And a hardware store.
Pritts bought the hardware store at 328 S. Main St. and opened it up for his first morning as owner on Sept. 20, 1963. Fifty years later, the rest of the businesses are gone, but Pritts Pro Hardware still stands at the corner of Fourth and Main streets in Burnettsville, a town in White County just west of the Cass County line on U.S. 24 where about 347 people now make their homes.
“I’ve lived here all of my life and the hardware store has always been there,” said Burnettsville postmaster Bambi Davidson. “It’s always been so convenient.”
Just down the street from the hardware store, Wanda Lytle, a loan officer at State Bank of Burnettsville, recalls raising her family next door to the Pritts home. Their children usually played together in one or the other of the families’ yards, she said.
“They’ve always been really nice people,” Lytle said. “‘Course, we miss his wife.”
Ed and his late wife, Beverly, used to share the duties at the hardware store, until Beverly died after contracting West Nile virus about six years ago. After her death, Ed Pritts said he resolved to keep the store open at least until his 50th anniversary year.
That anniversary arrives Friday. So now what?
“It’s a big decision,” Pritts, 74, said in his crisp, friendly style. He’d like to find a buyer for both the store itself and all the inventory inside, he said — “but that’s hard to do.”
He has three children, five grandchildren and a 2-year-old great-grandson, he said, but his children aren’t interested in taking over the hardware store after he decides to take it easy.
Back when he bought the business — which, he comments, is itself a long story he’d rather not get into — he “had no idea where to buy anything,” he said. The building needed some repairs, so he jumped in with both feet as a business owner.
When he wasn’t working at a Monticello factory, Pritts tooks his spot behind the register at the hardware store. His father, an employee at a Logansport factory, helped out, as did his wife.
Eventually, Pritts made the hardware store his full-time job and took on a couple of routes delivering LP gas on the side, he said.
He also began repairing small engines.
“I’ve been doing that since I was 12 or 13 years old,” he said. That started with an old Wizard motorbike he had in his teens. “I was fixing that almost every day,” he said.
He recalls one day about a decade ago when a peeved customer brought a riding lawn mower that he’d worked on. “He really chewed me out,” recalled Pritts. The repair was no good, the customer told him.
“Come to find out, it was out of gas,” said Pritts, grinning. “I put some gas in it, and it took right off.”
Pritts grew up about 5 miles outside of Burnettville, where his parents moved after their marriage in Camden. He stuck around, becoming a fixture in the town — he’s been chief of the volunteer fire department, and now superintends the town’s sewer plant and manages Davis Cemetery. He’s managed the cemetery just east of Burnettsville’s town limits for the past 38 years.
He and his brother trade off plowing at the sewer plant in the winter, he said. “I’m usually the early riser.”
By the time he opens the shop at 8 a.m. every day except Sunday, he’s been awake for five hours. He tends to customers’ needs till 5 p.m.
The most important part of running the store, he said, was keeping a well-stocked inventory, full of variety. “If you don’t have everything, they go elsewhere,” he explained.
Lytle, at the bank on the other end of the block from Pritts Pro Hardware, noted the store was a “handy thing” for folks looking to buy necessities.
“He pretty much had everything they needed,” she said. “They were always friendly and helpful.”
And at the post office two blocks away, Davidson said the Pritts couple had been dependable. “You know that there’s always someone there when they say they’re going to be there,” she said.
“We don’t want him to retire,” she added. “But we know it has to happen.”
Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151.