Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Staff Photographer

Plaza Hardware has begun phasing out into Ahwatukee’s history.

The store, in Mountainside Plaza on the southeast corner of Chandler Boulevard and 40th Street, has been a pioneer in the local business community, established in 1981 before Ahwatukee reached past Elliot Road.

But it will be around for only a few more weeks as it closes in the wake of owner and founder Leonard Branstetter’s death.

Branstetter died in February at age 90 after a long illness.

Before he got sick, he had talked about selling the store this year and finally retiring.

Now, his widow Karilyn and his children are faced with the sad task of closing out the store as the end of its lease comes May 31.

Signs announcing deep discounts on everything from tools to pool supplies have been posted throughout the store and new signs with deeper discounts were going up this week.

Chris McCarty, who co-owns an Ahwatukee company called Power Retailing, said he was marking most of the items’ prices down by at least 50 percent.

“We have to be out by the end of May,” said McCarty, whose company helps businesses close down.

Originally, the Branstetters opened a hardware and pool supply store on Elliot Road in 1981.

In an interview last year, Leonard Branstetter boasted how the store became a Saturday meeting place for many Ahwatukee residents who had previously had to go to a Kmart store for their supplies.”

Even in his late 80s, he continued to service longtime customers’ pools and estimated that he had installed 5,000 pool pump motors since 1981.

Despite his age, he also came to work every day, recalling how he was determined from the start to make the store the place to find nuts and bolts, tools and plumbing hardware, pool service and supplies, and anything else do-it-yourself homeowners might need.

“I like to work. I’ve never minded it, and I’ve worked since I was 18,” he said last year.

When he opened Plaza Hardware, he previously had built and remodeled pools in Scottsdale. He saw no reason to stop pool service with the new endeavor. So he and as many as four other employees drove to Scottsdale daily to continue to service those pools.

An Iowa native who arrived in Arizona in 1965 after running a family feed and grain business, he had decided last year to close the store in 2017 because of changes in the market.

Hardware is not in as much demand today from independent stores like theirs, he said, because many handymen are taking care of the repairs that homeowners used to perform themselves. Some of the handymen tend to get their supplies from retail chains.

The Branstetters employed only one pool repair and service person and about six part-time store clerks. Their staff includes retirees with engineering, law enforcement and other skilled backgrounds.

What hadn’t changed with time was his business philosophy: “Treat customers as I’d like to be treated. Make a profit, but treat the other guy so he can live with it.”

Numerous Ahwatukee residents mourned Branstetter’s passing earlier this year, posting on Facebook and other social media emotional tributes to his knowledge and his friendliness.

“Ahwatukee grew up around them,” said airline pilot Scott Williamson. “It’s like Americana, the way it used to be.”

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