Celebrating a 55 year career

55 years, two months and 21 days ago (on January 2, 1955) a young man with mostly black hair unlocked the front door of a tiny hardware store in a sleepy village in rural Northeast Ohio. There’s been a ton of changes since that day. Lehman’s is now an international supplier of non-electric goods. And the man who opened it now has mostly silver hair! But he’s still down there most every day making a difference.

Jay Lehman at about the time he opened Lehman's
Jay Lehman at about the time he opened Lehman's

Jay (on the left) helping a customer in the store more recently.
Jay (on the left) helping a customer in the store more recently.

Not too many years after Jay opened the store, young President Kennedy made an audacious claim. By the end of the 1960’s, he promised to have a man on the moon. If you remember Kennedy’s promise, you probably also remember thinking it could never be done. (Dad told me he certainly thought it was an impossible dream.)

In fact, when the US finally won the race to the moon, a friend of mine called his Dad and said, “See Dad, I told we could put a man on the moon.”

“Yup, but he don’t belong there!” was the response.

Albert Einstein said, “Problems are never solved by the same thinking that created them.” All progress is a demonstration of of that thinking in action. President Kennedy refused to accept the unacceptable. He was driven to change the commonly held perception that it was impossible to reach the moon. Here at Lehman’s we’ve never accepted things we believed were unacceptable, either.

It wasn’t easy for Dad to start this store. He had no money and the original owner, AB Sommers was reluctant to sell. But, Dad was determined. He borrowed the money from his dad (my drandpa), Ezra, to buy the vacant lot behind the store. (Today, this lot has Hearthside Quilts and our overflow parking.) AB finally sold Dad the store because he didn’t want to compete with Dad. I guess he recognized a good businessman when he saw one!

I asked Dad once if he would have been able to pull off his plan to build a new store from scratch. Dad replied that he could have if my grandpa would have been able to loan him enough money! As it was, Dad borrowed every cent for the lot, for the run-down old store and for the business from Grandpa.

For those first two years, Dad worked in the store all day and delivered stoves and appliances all night, or at least until he saw the lights go off in the farmhouses. In all that time, he never drew a single pay check. How did he make ends meet? While paying off the loan Grandpa gave him, he was also living under Grandpa’s roof!

People said he was crazy. They said he could never make that tumble-down old store go again. But he proved them wrong because he knew that “Problems are never solved by the same thinking that created them.”

In three years time, he had paid off the loan and made Grandpa his first employee!

On Saturday, we held our annual Employee Appreciation Banquet. What great time we had! One of the things we did was celebrate our 55th Anniversary and Dad’s 55 years of service.

I honor my Dad! Lehman’s has thrived because Dad believed in solving problems; because he refused to take no for an answer from vendors who didn’t want to supply products they thought were old-fashioned; because he dedicated himself to treating customers like valuable friends.

But at Saturday’s Employee Appreciation Banquet, I looked out over the group of people I count as friends and family. And I realized something important was different these days. Lehman’s no longer exists because of what Dad (or I) does. Lehman’s exists today because of all the good people in that room. For the first few years after Dad founded the store, he WAS the store.

Today, all my Dad and I do is provide the tools our employees need. They provide the friendly voices you hear on the phone, the talented minds that make our website work for you, the careful handling and packing of merchandise and the smiles that make our store in Kidron so welcoming.
Today, there’s a whole new group of folks figuring out how, “Problems are never solved by the same thinking that created them.”. Today, while honoring my Dad for 55 years of hard work, I dedicate our future to all the caring people who are making Lehman’s what it is today!

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