Little Rock’s Kraftco closes in on seven decades
December 11-17, 2017
By Jay Edwards
There are plenty of advantages to living in a small town, not the least of which is heading out on a Saturday morning to your favorite store on the town square and running into friends and familiar faces.
While Arkansas’ capital city and its surrounding populous hardly qualifies for small, we do boast a place in the heart where a person might feel they’ve stepped back into a scene from Thornton Wilder’s famous play.
Kraftco Building Supply originated in 1950, when a local builder named Garner Smith decided he would like to own a supply store for his building projects. Three years later, for whatever reason, Smith had a change of heart and sold Kraftco to a Little Rock civil engineer named Louis Bona.
“As it evolved it became a store for the individual consumer,” says Dick Bona, Kraftco’s owner and one of Louis and Mary’s eight children.
“We eventually got away from the contractor side and became a successful retail business.”
Over the years Louis added employees to keep up with the growing customer base. As the kids got older they were expected to be there as well. “I started when I was about seven,” Bona says through a grin, and when pressed again about it later, held firm on that age.
“We were all expected to work here, even the girls. It wasn’t an option. When Saturday mornings rolled around, we were at Kraftco,” he remembers.
As the years went by, the store became an institution in Little Rock. While other small retail hardware stores came and went, Kraftco remained. Time passed and the other Bona children moved on to various careers, and some, to distant cities. Dick remained, working at Kraftco and eventually becoming its owner.
“This is where I decided to be,” he says. “It’s where I wanted to be.”
Now there is a plan, all these years after Louis Bona purchased the store, for a third generation to take the helm. William, Dick’s son, at age 25, has decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.
After graduating from Little Rock Central High, Will went on to UALR, where he earned his degree, with studies in business management and criminal justice.
“It was something that always interested me and I likely would have chosen something in the field of law, had this opportunity not been here,” he says.
So, like his father before him, Will chose Kraftco for his career. He had a lot of experience to draw on for that decision, having grown up in the store. When he was younger it was a playground of sorts, but he would come to know the aisles for their knick-knacks and tools, and would eventually graduate to working there, as well.
“But that was by choice,” he says. “And I knew from my time working here through high school and college this was the right place for me. When it was time I let [dad] know that I was interested in staying on.”
Kraftco truly is a family business, as Dick’s daughter, Rose Bona, 27, also works at the store and keep things running smoothly.
As the store moves into the third generation of Bonas, Dick says the same is true with its customers. “We serve the children and grandchildren of many of the same folks we have dealt with since dad bought it,” he says.
Always known as a place to get those hard-to-find, unique items that no one else might have, (see “Are We There Yet?” on page 11), Will says that a lot of those unusual and rare pieces have gone away because they just aren’t made anymore. “We are notorious for having a lot of the old stuff, but over time it has dwindled away,” he says. “We still have some things in stock that you don’t find anymore, and once they are gone, that’s it.”
Luckily, until the rare find is sold, at Kraftco it will stay.
“I heard dad talking to a lady just the other day about something that we only had one of, something they don’t make anymore. She wanted two but we just had the one,” says Will.
“And we sold it to her?” Dick asks him, as if he was upset.
“Of course,” comes his son’s quick answer.
Besides those hard-to-find things, Kraftco has a reputation for providing exceptional service. When you walk through the door someone is always there to give you his or her undivided attention. On top of that, they are knowledgeable about providing you with the right tool or product for whatever the job may be.
“We have ten employees,” Will says. “Everyone gets a day off during the week, plus Sunday, so there is a full staff here every day.”
“And thanks to Will we are now computerized,” Dick says.
“Well, we’re almost there,” says Will.
It looks as though Little Rock’s favorite hardware store is in good hands for what is hopefully a long future. And don’t think you won’t be seeing Dick anymore either.
“I’m not retiring,” he says. “You see me here, don’t you?”
Will grins and offers to that, “I think he might eventually slow down to a couple days a week, but he’ll always be around.”
Visit Kraftco’s website at www.kraftcohardware.com, or better yet, visit them in the same spot they’ve been for the past 67 years at 6711 Cantrell Road.
Owners Dick and Will Bona stand with Kraftco’s newest addition, Gracie.