Slivensky Hardware stays in the family

CHRIS PONCHAUD, LEFT, and wife Samantha took over Slivensky Hardware and Lumber from his uncle and great-aunt, Don and Dorothy Slivensky, in 2016. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

CRYSTAL FALLS — Slivensky Hardware and Lumber has marked a half-century in family hands as a fixture in Crystal Falls.

Brothers Fred, Sam and Louis Slivensky originally purchased the Cloverland Supply Company, strictly a lumberyard at the time, in the late 1960s. Back then, the railroad tracks were right alongside the building, delivering wood products by rail car.

“When the train came in, it use to shake the building,” said Dorothy Slivensky, the previous owner, adding, “Crystal Falls was really booming at that time.”

Slivensky was the bookkeeper, taking care of approximately 20 people on the payroll — 12 on construction alone — “without computers, doing everything by hand,” she said.

While Slivensky Building and Supply began as a lumber yard, Dorothy and husband Fred had visions of doing more.

FROM LEFT ARE Samantha Ponchaud, Dorothy Slivensky and Chris Ponchaud. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

“We wanted to expand and (Fred’s brothers) didn’t, so we bought them out,” she said.

Not long after that, the Slivenskys were approached by the Iron County Housing Commission, who wanted their location as site for the Pleasant Valley Apartments for senior citizens.

“So we made some deals, exchanging property” and in 1976, they built the existing building at 107 E. Superior St. “Then, we were the main cogs,” she said.

But less than a decade later, Fred would be lost in 1984 and Dorothy stopped working not long after that. Jan Schaal and Bill Galbraith ran the store for the next 30-plus years.

While the Slivenskys’ son, Don, had moved out of the area, he began taking care of the books by long distance after his mom stepped away.

Dorothy remembers asking, “Why don’t we sell?” But she said her son had a soft spot in his heart for the business.

“I don’t think Don wanted to get rid of it totally. He knew we should do something, but he had hopes that it could still run,” she said.

Then came a “message from heaven,” as Dorothy Slivensky termed it.

Her great-nephew, Chris Ponchaud of Ponchaud Contracting and Excavating in Crystal Falls, was thinking about his future. “I don’t want to do construction my whole life,” he said.

His wife, Samantha, had a good job cooking at Iron County Medical Facility when Ponchaud approached her about buying the business. She was a little leery at first.

“Chris is the risk taker,” she admitted. “He always just thinks everything will work out.”

After some discussion, the couple purchased the business from Dorothy Slivensky and son Don in April 2016.

As owners, they have made exterior building improvements, carry a more extensive selection and brought back the lumber yard that previously closed in 2005.

“We are very proud of him. This was supposed to be,” Dorothy Slivensky said.

A short time after the Ponchauds purchased the store, Schaal and Galbraith retired from managing the business, and the “opportunity presented itself,” for Samantha to take over management.

“Somebody had to be here, and I didn’t want to have to pay somebody to run the store, so it was kind of take the leap and hope it works out,” she said.

Now Samantha runs the store day to day, and the Ponchauds have two sons, Dawson and Dane, who both help out. They also employ two others, Marissa Burke and Heather Clemo.

Samantha Ponchaud said she is getting more comfortable with the business and is proud of how knowledgeable she has become in hardware and other supplies in the store.

“I think sometimes the customers see two girls behind the counter and wonder, but they are surprised to see that we know what we are talking about,” she said.

The store offers vinyl siding, shingles, kitchen cabinets, countertops, carpet, laminate flooring, windows and doors, lumber, wood pellets, household hardware, home improvement supplies, building materials, hand tools, power tools, keys, locks, plumbing supplies, electrical supplies, cleaning products, housewares, utensils, paint, lawn and garden products, car supplies, hitch covers, NFL toolboxes and gifts.

More might be available on request, she said.

“Just because you don’t see it in the store doesn’t mean we don’t offer it because there is only a limited amount of space,” said Samantha Ponchaud, adding “You don’t have to go to Marquette to get a good deal. You don’t have to drive. I’m right here. If they are selling something for $20 and I’m at $20.50, you’re not saving by making the drive. We try to keep it local and keep the small town going.”

Last year they added a second building a block up the street to hold an ample supply of flooring, windows, and doors, including a “full line of Shaw and Armstrong floor coverings, carpet and hard surface, with lots of displays to look at,” Chris Ponchaud said.

That new building isn’t staffed for now, but customers can stop in the main store to access the secondary building. “I’m hoping in the spring it will be, but if somebody is interested, one of us will bring them up there.”

They also offer screen and glass repair and have an insulation trailer for rent. Delivery is available as well.

Dorothy Slivensky said her family and the Ponchauds are following parallel paths with the store.

“We both had our two sons working at the store, my husband ran a construction company, while I did the books; that’s what we did, too. It was a family affair,” she said, adding, “We are very happy Chris and Sam took over. They are very capable. We are very, very pleased.”