HIGHLAND PARK – Kyle Sheahen wrote a heartfelt letter to his dad, Dane Sheahen, last month — one year after the longtime Highland Park businessman died in a Florida plane crash.
He had so much to say, both about his personal life, about his dad’s dog Buddy, and about the family business, Mutual Ace Hardware in Highland Park. Now in its 100th year, the business is now co-owned by Kyle, 27, with his father’s first cousin, Chris Sheahen.
“It is truly shocking that you have been gone for a year now,” Kyle began in his letter to his dad, who was 63 and a resident of Fort Sheridan when the single-engine plane he was piloting went down on March 12, 2016, in Clermont, Florida. “So many wonderful things have happened that I wish I could share with you.”
One of them is the ongoing expansion of the Route 41 hardware store’s Garden Center, which will open this spring.
“That’s been our biggest project since he’s been gone,” Kyle said. “In previous years we had plants in the front of the store, and due to the large increase in sales, we decided to tear down the garages to make room for trees and shrubs from some of the premium garden centers in the area. We’ll offer big-box prices for greenhouse-quality plants.
“May,” he added, “is our ‘Christmas’, and we typically double our sales with lawn and garden, which is our big category,” said Kyle, a Long Grove resident. “Now with the addition of plants on top of what we currently sold in lawn and garden, we’re going to be even busier.”
Kyle has been working with Steve Gould, store manager, and Mike Geimer, lawn and garden expert, on the expansion project. “Mike is a horticulturalist who heads the lawn and garden department and you could come in with a leaf with bug bites on it and he’ll tell you what kind of bug is eating your tree and what to do about it,” said Kyle.
Chris said, “Mike is a real asset to Mutual Ace with his professional training, especially with the Garden Center expansion. Chris and Kyle are also grateful for all of Steve’s help with the project.
Chris said Kyle dramatically increased Mutual Rentals’ business: “Kyle took over the marketing in 2012 and changed the whole advertising scheme.”
How’s Kyle as a business partner?
Chris said he is impressed with Kyle’s work ethic — and overall approach — as a co-owner of Mutual Ace Hardware.
“Kyle has great ideas and is a good listener. He can laugh at himself, and he’s not afraid to make a mistake,” said Chris. “The future of the company is in good shape. It’s great to have a new generation with his ability and energy.”
Kyle said his dad was his mentor and told him he was ready to take over the family business shortly before he died.
Kyle continues to run the business with his dad in mind.
“Dad always talked about the importance of having good customer service, and we really cater to our customers and make sure that they’re our number one priority,” he said.
Kyle’s great-great-grandfather started Mutual Coal, a coal delivery business, in 1917 on Vine Avenue near Highland Park High School.
Kyle’s grandfather built the first small retail store at Route 41 between 1959 and 1960.
“In 1960, Terry Lillie became the first hardware store employee, and he still works here today,” said Steve.
Kyle said his dad and Chris built the current Mutual Ace store on Route 41 in 1984.
In addition to changes at the family business, Kyle has made changes to his personal life – including getting engaged, buying a house, fixing it up and lovingly adopting Buddy, his dad’s bulldog and constant companion.
Buddy had kept Dane company after his wife, Sandy Brill Sheahen, was diagnosed with ALS. Dane, Kyle and Kyle’s sister, Kristen Sheahen, took care of Sandy until she lost her battle in 2013.
Kristen works for Milwaukee Tools in Colorado, and Dane was pleased that both of his children were in the hardware business.
“Buddy lives with me, and I sit in my dad’s chair in his office, so I feel like Dad’s still with me every day,” Kyle said.
Below is more from the letter Kyle wrote to his dad on the anniversary of his death:
“I got engaged to the girl I love and I bought an amazing house that Taylor and I are fixing up together. Thank you for teaching me how to fix stuff. It’s really coming in handy now.
“This year I am opening a garden center at the store. Every day I work hard to make sure your legacy lives on at Mutual. You had such a zest for life, and I cherish the memories I have of you. You were not only an amazing father, but you were my best friend. As tears fill my eyes reflecting on what you have missed this year, I want you to know that I am truly happy.”