By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Over the course of 25 years, Joe Drusch has raised his family while building a family business they can all be proud of and work at.
Most of the Drusch family works at Joe’s Sport Shop.
Joe’s wife, Karen, is the “brains behind the operation,” also known as the accountant or bookkeeper.
The Drusch’s oldest daughter, Amanda (Drusch) Stoll, was only 2 years old when Joe purchased the Phillips 66 gas station from Gene Main, and is now the store’s manager.
Amanda’s husband, Eric, is Joe’s “right-hand man,” and has worked at the store for 16 years, Joe said.
The other four children that work at the store, ranging in age from 17 to 23, were all born as Joe was building the business that would help raise them.
Although most of Joe’s children currently work at the store, they're each beginning to follow their own paths.
His daughter, Steph, is in the process of finding a teaching position, and his son, Jake, has already found a job as a full-time paramedic.
His son, Zach, is on his way to college, and Tristan will be finishing high school soon.
Because most of Joe’s children are moving on, Joe’s Sport Shop will be accepting applications for part-time help, which may turn into full-time work, said Amanda.
“But, you have to be part of the fire department to work here,” Joe said, only half-joking. He is Howard Lake’s former fire chief, and both Jake and Eric are volunteer firefighters for the department.
Before purchasing the gas station, Joe had worked at Donnie’s OK Hardware, owned by his father Don Drusch, for 10 years.
Don had purchased the business from Denny Lang in February 1977, and sold it to Rod and Wanda Werner in February 1985.
The business became known as Werner Hardware and Home Center, but closed in 1999.
“I decided to try something on my own,” Joe said, explaining why he decided to purchase the gas station.
When Joe bought the gas station, the shelves were empty, so he had to start from scratch, he said. He added sporting goods and changed the name to Joe’s Sport Shop.
Eventually, Joe added small engine repair and LP gas to his merchandise.
After Werner Hardware closed in 1999, many people approached Joe about opening a new hardware store, given his previous experience, Joe said.
Then, Joe happened to sit near his dad’s former hardware sales representative, who was now a sales representative for Hardware Hank, at the Delano Fourth of July parade.
He mentioned to Joe that Howard Lake needed a hardware store, and he could help him set it up, Joe said.
Joe decided to expand the store in spring 2001, when all the businesses along Highway 12 in Howard Lake were basically shutdown anyway because the highway was all ripped up, Joe said.
He was working part time at the post office at the time, so he still had income during that summer of road construction and adding on.
Overall, adding the hardware store to the rest of the business turned out to be a good venture.
“You’re not going to get rich running a small business, but you hope to make enough to pay the bills,” Joe said, which he has.
Joe admits that owning a small business in a small town has its share of challenges.
“Having your own business in general is great because you’re your own boss, but you work a lot of hours,” he said.
It also means he doesn’t get to go home on Friday and leave everything at work. He takes the headaches with him, he said.
Having a small hardware store also means it can be a guessing game as to what should be stocked on the shelf, hoping to be able to provide the customer with what is needed.
“Sometimes you gamble and win, and sometimes you gamble and lose,” Joe said.
Although the big box hardware stores are getting closer, and it is harder to compete with them at times, Joe said he tries to offer what his customers need at a fair price.
Even to this day, local people who have never been in the store, or those who have recently moved to Howard Lake, will come in and say they did not realize how big the store is, Joe said.
“If you don’t think local businesses have what you need, you should check them out,” Joe said. “It might save you a trip to Buffalo.”