In 1900, a rash of suspected arson incidents in the Yorkville neighborhood nearly claimed the recently opened Wankel’s Hardware Store, as well as the lives of its owners, who lived in an apartment at the back of the store. Fortunately, the family dog, named Prince, alerted them to the smoke and flames enveloping the building. The Wankels and the building’s other tenants escaped with their lives, and the business has thrived for 115 years.
Wankel’s Hardware Store opened on Third Avenue in 1896, when the neighborhood was still predominantly German. Established by Bernhart and Elizabeth Wankel, second generation German-Americans, it served primarily construction workers and tradesmen. At the time, the most popular item sold was a simple wooden bucket that laborers used to carry beer home from the area’s German breweries.
Much has changed over the years, and today you won’t find any wooden beer buckets in the store’s inventory. However, Katherine Wankel, the great-granddaughter of Bernhart and Elizabeth, maintains this family operation. She and the store have been recognized for their open and welcoming hiring practices, which include making it a point to provide jobs for international refugees, formerly homeless or incarcerated individuals, and persons with disabilities.