Karilyn K. Branstetter, co-owner with her late husband of one of Ahwatukee’s oldest businesses, died Feb. 21. She was 91.
Mrs. Branstetter and her husband Leonard owned Plaza Hardware Pool Supply in the Mountainside Plaza since 1981, and its long, sad dismantling began shortly after he passed away at 90 in February 2017.
“After closing the store in July of 2017, she truly missed her husband Leonard, employees, and faithful customers she thought of as friends,” said her daughter Chere Crandall.
Mrs. Branstetter was born Oct. 7, 1928, to Ruth and Theodore Karges in Orange City, Iowa.
After a year of studying music at Drake University, she moved west to finish her degree at the University of Arizona. Her first teaching job was in Eloy, and the following year she married Glen E. Crandall and went to teach in Ray, Arizona.
In the fifties, she gave birth to two daughters, Chere and Kristine Crandall. The Crandalls moved to Chandler in 1954 and built the house in which she lived for the rest of her life.
In her early years in Chandler, Mrs. Branstetter taught piano lessons in her home to 35-40 students a week. She also was the church organist at The First Presbyterian Church in Chandler for 25 years.
In the late sixties, she was the accompanist for Chandler High School musicals and the choir’s presentation of “The Messiah.”
In 1968, she married Leonard and they began their own swimming pool business called Camelback Pool Service.
In 1981, they opened The Hardware Store on Elliot Road in Ahwatukee which also included pool service repair and supplies. As Ahwatukee grew, they opened a second store, Plaza Hardware and Pool Supply, at 40th and Chandler Boulevard and later closed the original store.
“Their vision was to have a mom-and-pop store providing locally needed items and offering assistance to customers who wanted to do it themselves,” Chere said.
“So many people, especially in Lakeside, depended on that store,” said Chere said when her Leonard passed away. “The store was their life and the customers were their friends.”
Despite his age, Mr. Branstetter came to work every day and only around 2016 gave up his pool cleaning service that once had been a big part of his business.
He told the Ahwatukee Foothills News in 2016 that when he first opened, he was determined to make the store the place to find nuts and bolts, tools and plumbing hardware, pool service and supplies, and anything else local do-it-your-self homeowners might need.
“I like to work. I’ve never minded it, and I’ve worked since I was 18,” he said at the time. “Pools are a big business in Ahwatukee.”
He previously had built and remodeled pools in Scottsdale and saw no reason to stop pool service when he and his wife opened their Ahwatukee business.
So, he and as many as four other employees drove to Scottsdale daily to continue to service those pools.
He estimated that he installed 5,000 pool motors since 1981.
The Branstetters often employed retirees with engineering, law enforcement and other skilled backgrounds.
What hadn’t changed with time was the Branstetter‘s 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.”
“Throughout these years, they were blessed to have several exceptional employees who, like them, developed loyal customers and friendships,” Chere said last week.
And when the store closed in 2017, “Karilyn truly missed the atmosphere, her employees and customers,” she added.
In addition to the store, she and Leonard had many other passions.
In the early 70s, they built a cabin in Groom Creek near Prescott, doing most of the work themselves.
“Many weekends were spent enjoying the fruits of their labor,” Chere said, adding that the Branstetters were long time season ticket holders of both the Phoenix Suns and Mercury basketball teams.
Traveling was also part of their extracurricular activities.
They had especially fond memories of a small ship on which they traveled around Cape Cod and the nearby islands. They also particularly enjoyed a Vancouver-to-Banff train trip through the Canadian Rockies.
At home, they were entertained by their rescued kitties for many years.
And in an interview in 2016 with AFN, Leonard attributed his longevity to his wife’s cooking, stating, “She’s one of the best cooks you’ll ever see.”
Chere, owner of Ahwatukee Pool Lady, said that since her mother’s death, “The number of people that responded really touched my sister Kristine and I.
“Three years later hundreds of people still remembered how much the store meant to them,” she said. “They really spent time helping people.
“The store carried parts used by the local builders and if an item wasn’t on the shelf, they would personally search their suppliers and order it for them. And yes, they would actually sell one nail at a time if that’s what the customer wanted.
“We are especially proud of our mother because in her 50’s she herself learned the hardware business,” Chere added.
“She got a kick out of someone new coming in and when they only saw a woman at the counter they would say ‘Is the boss here?’ Especially in the early days, Leonard was out doing pool repairs and Karilyn was running the store.”
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at Horizon Presbyterian Church, 1401 E. Liberty Lane, Ahwatukee.
Besides Chere and Kristine, Mrs. Branstetter is survived by two sons, Keith and Jerry.