PHOTO BY David Phillips/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNEJill Klepper and Todd Jones with their daughter, Cassie, in front of their former store last year. Things have changed since then, but they plan to open up a new True Value store in Spring Valley next spring.

Jill Klepper and Todd Jones with their daughter, Cassie, in front of their former store last year. Things have changed since then, but they plan to open up a new True Value store in Spring Valley next spring.

"Temporarily closed due to fire. Reopening soon," states a faded, hand-scrawled sign that has been hanging in the door of the former True Value store since June 4, 2011.

Todd Jones, who spoke about progress on the store Saturday with Jill Klepper in their half-finished home that they are renovating, said he truly felt at the time it would just be a matter of a few weeks, never imagining that an "open" sign wouldn't have replaced that temporary sign sooner than 18 months after a fire destroyed his downtown Spring Valley business.

"It's been a long road, but we're getting there, slowly but surely," said Jones.

The "open" sign isn't hanging yet, but Jones and Klepper are closing in on opening the doors to a new store at a new location by next spring.

Thursday, they closed on the land, which is located next to Kraut Valley Locker and behind Kwik Trip in northwest Spring Valley. The architectural drawings were completed Saturday. They just have to complete the building permit process and break ground, something they plan to do before the end of the year, depending on the weather. They've already ordered merchandise and just have to give the OK to release it for distribution to the store.

The new building, a pole shed structure being put up by Ken Baker Construction of Fillmore, will be 90 by 87 feet. The square footage is 7,830, which is more than 20 percent larger than the building downtown. Not only will it be larger, "it will utilize the space a lot better," said Klepper, so there will be more room to display stock.

The new store will be "nice and up to date - a more modern store," said Jones. It will appeal to the younger generation that has grown up with big box stores.

The style will be part of the Destination True Value program that includes coordinated signage, layout and other components. Jones said True Value has done extensive research and shown that this works.

Although the store won't have the "mom and pop" feel the downtown store did, Jones promised it is "still a family business and we aren't going to operate it like a big box store."

Process slow

Jones was ready to jump right back into business after the fire, but many things slowed him down. Then, his True Value representative and insurance agent both recommended that he take some time to think about it and not rush into anything.

He's glad he did because now he feels he has a plan that will better serve the community. Once he decided that a new building was the way to go, it took time for him to find land and move forward.

The lot he purchased from Tim Warren is a tight fit for his store, but Jones said Warren was great to work with and he even sold him some extra land of his own so he had enough room for zoning setbacks.

The only zoning variance he needed was a reduction in the required parking spaces from 35 to 20. Jones said he would love to have 35 customers there on a constant basis, but feels that 20 is plenty. He also worked with the city to get his building included in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to help make the project go.

He has been working with True Value on the layout of the store. He and Klepper spent a full day fine-tuning the particulars, which even included decisions such as how many feet of display area is needed for paintbrushes.

The new store won't carry parts from decades ago, like the old store did, but Jones said he will try to order anything anyone needs. Jones is known for his exceptional customer service, something he plans to continue, but he also realizes he won't be able to go to the extent he used to, sometimes going to customers' homes to install parts they purchased with no charge for his labor.

He is planning to keep the store open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., dedicating as much time as possible to managing the store. Being away from the business for a while has actually been a good thing for the couple as they have seen service and treatment of customers from the other side of the fence.

"We've really thought how we're going to run our business," said Jones. "It has been a real eye-opener for us."

Just before the fire, Jones had expanded into appliances. That portion is up in the air and will likely continue to be as he wants to focus on the hardware store first.

Leaving downtown

With the roots of the store going back to 1965, Jones said he had a hard time making the decision to leave downtown. "The downtown is my heart and soul," he said.

However, True Value research shows that there will be an increase in traffic, perhaps 20 percent, with his location near the highway. Everyone in town knows where we are, explained Klepper, but people visiting the race track of Forestville won't unless they see the store.

True Value also provided many perks for going with the type of store they did due to the increased size.

"I would have loved to have stayed downtown, but that isn't much of an option - unfortunately that is the way the world is going," said Jones.

As for the downtown building, they aren't abandoning it. Jones said he has some ideas and plans on pursuing them to make sure the building is used.

New chapter

After the decision was made to wait on opening a store, Jones needed a job. First, he worked for Lifetime Insulation owned by Seth Christianson and then Tracker Industries owned by Matt Stier.

Spring Valley is lucky to have local businesses that employ local people, he said. He also said continuing to draw a regular paycheck was tempting, but despite having to plow all his money into expanding his business, he "would have kicked himself" if he never tried, despite the risk.

"It's exciting," he said. "I'm looking forward to it, although it's scary in a way, too."

He says it is a whole new chapter in their lives. Not only did the two lose their business in the fire, they also lost their home for they lived in an apartment above the downtown store.

For more than a year, they have worked other jobs, raised their daughter, Cassie, worked on renovating their house they purchased in Spring Valley and more recently served as general contractor on the new store - all while living in the basement of Todd's parents.

The home they are fixing up to live in requires a lot of work. In some ways, it is as if they are building new as they moved walls, put on additions and gutted the entire interior. They have worked at it as time - and money - permits.

Still, the two look around at other people who have had worse situations and they consider themselves lucky. The people in the area have been very good to them, not only with all the volunteers immediately after the fire, but since then, said Jones.

"Spring Valley is a good town that has and will back me. I totally believe in Spring Valley," he said.

He is looking forward to getting his old customer base back. He misses seeing the people that he always used to see in his store each day.

"I have the utmost respect for the people of Spring Valley," he said. "They stepped up for me so we're going to step up for them and make this thing roll."