Gazette Article by: Jane Lord
Appeared in the Gazette: Winter 1994
Three generations of Eckarts have made nuts and bolts their business in the east Elm Street hardware store that bears their name. It is Winnetka’s oldest continuing retailer.
In 1881 founder Julius Frederick Eckart came to Chicago from Germany. Trained to do frescos, he launched a successful painting business. Before moving to Winnetka in 1910, he had decorated many homes and buildings, including the Board of Trade and McVickers Theatre. In 1915, recognizing the Village’s need for a hardware supplier, he opened a small store at 726 Elm, opposite its present location.
As Eckart Hardware prospered, its owner envisioned having his own building. In 1923 that dream became a reality with completion of the 3-story structure at 735 Elm. A third floor was added to the original plans to provide housing for local teachers; family members lived on the second floor.
The early store had wooden floors, glass-doored display cabinets, and ladders mounted on rollers that slid the entire length of the store. The founder’s six children took turns working at the store. After Julius’s death, his son, William assumed the store’s management. At age 10 his grandson, William G. Eckart, Jr., was filling pint bottles with kerosene, linseed oil and turpentine from 50-gallon tanks. For 41 years the store has been his permanent job, coming under his management in 1972. Today he and his wife, Sharon, are the only Eckarts in the business.
One former Eckart employee, Julius Ulbricht, set a record few attain. He was hired in 1926 and stayed until he retired in 1981. He got to know most of the Village’s residents who depend on Eckart’s for their hardware needs.