If you’ve lived in our neighborhood for any amount of time, chances are good that you know Khandoo and Umi Nagar by face, if not by name.
It would have started with a leaky pipe or a squeaky door that you needed to fix. Maybe it was a Saturday afternoon and you thought, “I could go to Home Depot, but it’ll be so packed, and it’s a bit of a drive.” You’d try to come up with a more convenient solution and then it’d hit you: “Hey, I could go to Ace Hardware; they’re just up the street.”
In a world of increasingly frequent Home Depots and Lowes – what the Nagars refer to, not disparagingly, as “big boxes” – our neighborhood hardware store is a rarity.
In April, the Nagars quietly celebrated 20 years in business.
It’s an accomplishment uncommon in this day and age, when neighbors often lament the loss of longtime mom-and-pop businesses in our community.
But you probably didn’t see any big banners or balloons for a congratulatory celebration. The Nagars are just too modest for that kind of fanfare.
They came to the United States in 1978 from South Africa. There, Umi had been a teacher and Khandoo an engineer. Though Indian, they are both third-generation South Africans, having also spent 13 years in Zambia.
After a stint in Chicago, where they opened their first hardware store with a friend, they decided Dallas’ milder climate was more to their liking.
In April 1983, they opened the hardware store in a space now occupied by La Dolce Vita restaurant. Back then, they had five employees and about 3,500 square feet. Today, they both have tripled. There are 15 full and part-time employees at Ace, including many who are Woodrow Wilson High School students. And they recently expanded their latest space – they moved to their current store in 1985 – to about 13,000 square feet.
Though in his sixties, Khandoo still spends most of his days in the store, and Umi, who started off as a cashier, now handles all of the bookkeeping.
Nagar credits his work ethic with the store’s success, but says treating customers with respect is equally more important.
“My motto in life is always to help people, and not to use people who come to you for help and offer them really expensive that they don’t need, just so you can make money,” he says. “You have to help them solve the problem without them spending a lot of money.”
Though many residents are loyal to the store, the Nagars give a special nod to our neighborhood’s elderly population for helping them stay successful, saying they have been some of the store’s most faithful customers.
Scott Sutton, who has been Ace’s store manager for seven years, says the business is Khandoo’s pride and joy.
“This is his life, and he really enjoys it,” Sutton says. “He enjoys meeting people and fixing their problems for them. He prides himself on having a selection of merchandise for the customers, and I think that’s what’s kept him in business.”
After working as an engineer in Zambia, Nagar says it’s just plain fun to “help people achieve whatever project they’re working on.”
Umi Nagar agrees, adding that, though her life at Ace has sometimes been a struggle, in the end, it’s the people who have made it worth it.
“The hardware business is very challenging; you’re sometimes on your feet for 10 hours a day,” she says. “But you get to meet so many interesting people. We may not know everyone by name, but we certainly know their face.”
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