Twenty-six years ago, the Manpower staffing agency told Tami Shue to show up at a place called Riley’s Tools. Shue recounted how owner Riley Gunnoe groused about not wanting to hire anyone, but, a week later, the mother of two had a job.
Over the years, Shue developed a deep friendship with Gunnoe. As he got older and knew he would have to turn the store over, he turned to Shue.
“He said, ‘You’re the one who stuck by me and cared for me,’” Shue, 55, of St. Albans, recalled last week.
She prayed about it and decided to take the plunge, two years ago in July. Now, come Thursday, she will give up the 46-year-old St. Albans shop.
“Business was fine,” she said. “I was holding my head above water. But nobody will work; [it’s] hard finding employees.”
She’ll give up the tools, but not the knives. The late Gunnoe sold Case knives out of his store, and Shue has continued the tradition. She is looking for a new building from which to sell the knives, known for their quality. Whether she has found it or not by February, the contents of the old business — $1.5 million worth of tools — will be auctioned.
Over the years, knives competed for or exceeded the revenue brought in by other tools. That’s why Shue is sticking with them. One day last week, six men stood in front of a case of Cases, debating and comparing the merits of each.
As for a new building from which to sell the knives, Shue is looking for a place with a large interior and parking, two common challenges physical-business owners face.
“It’s the people,” she said. “That’s why I want a bricks-and-mortar store. And the new place is going to have a coffee shop. All my customers are just fun — different and unique.”
Steve Hawkins, 55, of Cross Lanes, has a long tradition of buying from Shue a Case knife for his son. He continued it two days before Christmas, as time bore down on him.
“Yeah, more last- minute scrambling,” Hawkins said. “She and I have been working on this project for 16 years.”
Hawkins says he appreciates Shue’s skills as a business owner.
“It’s her knowledge of tools and her positive personality,” he said. “You always feel good when you leave and you have nice, quality stuff. She knows these knives like you wouldn’t believe.”
Shue guaranteed Hawkins’ customer loyalty several years ago when a prominent Case designer died, ratcheting up the value of his knives.
“The knives were doubling in value, but she kept the price the same,” Hawkins said. “She and Riley built a business with a lot of loyal customers.”
With tools or without, Hawkins said Shue will do fine.
“I hate to see the store go, but she’s going to carry it on and do very well. This is a big thing, and nice for her.”
For more information, contact Shue at tamishue@rileytools .com.