By Gina Schaefer
It didn’t take long after my husband and I opened our first hardware
store in 2003 for people to start coming in and asking us to open in
their neighborhood, too.
By 2009, we had grown to six Ace Hardware stores in Baltimore and
Washington DC, with our seventh store opening in 2010 in Takoma Park,
Maryland. The next year, Old Takoma Ace Hardware was one of four
stores, out of 4,500 locally owned and operated Ace Hardware stores
worldwide, to win the “Coolest Hardware Store” award from Ace Hardware
We expanded further in 2012, growing from seven stores to nine with
additional Washington DC and Maryland locations.
We may own the business, but we didn’t do this alone. Our growth would
not have been possible without the help of our dedicated employees.
Paying fair wages helped our business grow fast to nine stores and
nearly 200 employees even as our country suffered a terrible economic
Our starting pay for sales associates is $10. We know that gradually
raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour makes good
Raising pay at the bottom is good for the bottom line in key ways:
When employees earn a decent starting wage, they can concentrate on
their job without continual stress over how they are going to afford
basics like rent, groceries or transportation.
Businesses like mine count on good customer service, and good customer
service depends on employees who are treated fairly and invested in
our business. Our employees know we value them, and we know they value
Satisfied customers don’t just keep coming back themselves, they tell
their friends and families about us. Paying better wages helps us
attract and retain good employees, increase sales, expand our
business, and hire more employees.
When the minimum wage goes up it puts money in the paychecks of people
who most need to spend it — from making rent to buying things they
could not afford before from the grocer, the pharmacy, the shoe store,
the auto repair, and, yes, the hardware store.
Local businesses depend on local customers with money to spend. A
higher minimum wage means more money circulating in our local economy.
Our employees shop at other businesses, and the employees of other
businesses shop at our stores. A higher minimum wage is a boost for
our local tax base as well.
Too many large companies pay wages so persistently low that many of
their employees have to turn to food banks or food stamps and other
public assistance for the most basic essentials. This means companies
that could pay higher minimum wages, but aren’t, are being heavily
subsidized by taxpayers.
Moreover, when the minimum wage stays too low, the gap between
companies like mine that are trying to do the right thing and the
larger companies that are paying as low as they can, gets greater and
greater. A growing gap makes it harder for businesses like mine to
There’s no reason for businesses to be paying a minimum wage of just
$7.25 an hour — $15,080 a year for full-time work. After all, that’s
the same minimum wage that businesses paid in 1950, adjusted for
inflation. This is 2014, not 1950!
Between 1950 and 1968, the minimum wage increased in real
inflation-adjusted value, giving us stronger ground to anchor our
income ladder to the middle class.
But since 1968, the minimum wage has been allowed to lose about a
third of its value, leaving even full-time workers in poverty and the
rungs of the middle class further out of reach for a growing number of
We need to raise the minimum wage so full-time workers can get out of
poverty and we can rebuild the consumer demand that drives our
As a business owner, I support the proposal to raise the minimum wage
to $10.10 by 2016, and then adjust it annually to keep up with the
cost of living. Indexing the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index
will make wages much more predictable for businesses.
Better wages at the bottom helped my business succeed. A better
minimum wage will help our nation succeed.
Gina Schaefer is the owner of A Few Cool Hardware Stores, a group of
nine Ace Hardware stores in Washington DC and Maryland.