After 32 years, RL True Value changes hands: No big changes anticipated

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
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Photo by Eleanor Guerrero
(Left to Right) New owners of Red Lodge True Value are Eric Pirtz, Frank Pirtz, Sr. and Frank Pirtz, Jr., seen here with former longtime owners Debbie Awes and Ken Awes.

It’s been 32 wonderful years according to Debbie and Ken Awes, former owners of Red Lodge True Value. The store changed hands this year with the closing on the business on Dec. 31, 2018, and the closing on the building and land completed just March 28. 

Rest assured, they want you to know it will change very little. The new owner is the Pirtz family, comprised of the family patriarch, Frank Pirtz, Sr. and his two sons Frank and Eric. 

Frank, Jr., has been manager and a fixture at the store for 25 years. “Little will change,” Frank, Jr. said. “I’ve been managing for 25 years. Not a lot will be different. Just a lot of extra responsibility,” he smiled. He is now Vice President.
Long-term employee Paula Wilson moves into the management position.

The Awes praised their employees. “They’re almost all long-term,” said Debbie, with decades of experience here between them.

The move is clearly from one experienced family to another. It will still be operated by local people with experience in the field. 

Frank, Jr. explained. “He’s been looking for a family investment to pass on to his children and the Awes wanted to sell.”
Debbie said, “We were ready to retire after 32 years. They were great years. Ken and I really want to thank the community for its support. Our first little store was in 1987, where Kibler and Kirsch is located. We built this in 2002.”

Frank started with the company in October, 1993.

Frank, Jr’s brother Eric will take care of the books. 

Eric said, “I’m excited. It’s something new. I’m moving up from Billings.” He worked in building commercial doors and windows and has a finance background. 

“I’m moving to Billings from Rock Springs, Wyoming,” said Frank, Sr., who feels the move is “good.” 

“I’ve been in construction 46 years,” said Frank, Sr., so he’s knowledgeable about the needs of hardware business customers. 

Frank, Sr. added, “So it’s all done when I tip over!”

Frank, Jr. said, “We’ve been talking 4-5 years about doing something (together).”

Debbie said, “Our kids were not interested in being in the retail business. It’s a perfect fit-meant to be!”

When asked about fond memories of the years, Debbie exclaimed, “Frank and I went together to market-True Value markets, all over the country for 20 years! Each February and September. In February, we’d buy for next Christmas and in September we’d buy for next spring and summer.”

Ken interjected, “They let me stay home after a couple of years.” 

Frank, Jr. said he learned a lot from Debbie.

“Been Frick and Frack for a long time,” joked Ken. “Two years ago I lessened my involvement. Now it’s just a matter of harassing Frank.”

Debbie noted, “Then came our wonderful grandchildren. We’ve got 3 in Billings, 2 in Missoula. We’ve been to Missoula five time in the last two months!”

Ken admitted about retirement, “I thought it’d be hard but it’s been really easy!”

Debbie said, “I will miss it! I will miss the people. I will miss the employees. I will miss the customers.”

Frank joked, “She can still come work anytime she wants to!”

Debbie gave credit. “Frank helped us grow this business. We’re very grateful to him.” They more than tripled their retail space over the years. 

Through the years there were ups and downs for the Awes. “The years 2007, 2008-they were hard years,” said Debbie. “We had to be really careful.” But they made it through to better times. 

Frank, Jr. said, “We don’t want to change a lot. We’ll improve, a little at a time. Customer service is our main goal... We’re a local hardware store, although a national brand. We designed the store around our customers.” It’s about 85 percent True Value items, 10 percent sporting goods (outside items) and five percent miscellaneous.

“Yesterday we signed with True Value for seven more years,” said Frank, Jr. 

Ken said, “He’s chief cook and bottle washer.”

Debbie said, “He’s taught us a lot. He’s our computer guru. Mr. Technology!”

Debbie said, “People always liked that the store had a nice mix. Like a general store. Ken and I both worked for a large corporation, like Walmart. It had everything.” They decided their little store would have a range: “a little bit of everything.” It seemed to work out well with the community. She noted, “It’s not typical” for a True Value store. 

Debbie and Frank noted with the internet, things are changing. You can purchase online and have it picked up at the local store, free of freight. Tariffs have brought them some challenges. “We’re trying to hold the prices down as much as possible. It’s hard to say with everything having components.”

Ken wants the public to know, “Thanks for 30 years!”

Debbie said, “We loved doing what we did!” 

New manager Paula Wilson said, “They’ve been wonderful! I hate to see them go!” The Awes do plan to still live in the area. 

Frank, Sr. said, “For me, it’s a new step. I wanted a step to get the whole family involved.” Did it work? “I hope so!”

Frank, Jr. said, “I would also like to thank our customers for the 25 years I’ve been here. I look forward to the next 25 years!” He added that he’s always there for questions. “That’s what we do.”

Old customers and potential customers are all invited to the Grand Opening and retirement party on Sunday, June 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be free hot dogs and hamburgers and Pepsi, as well as drawings for free gifts. 


The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

Fax: 406-446-2225

Toll-Free: 800-735-8843

Open: Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.