Since 1955, the family that owns McGukin Hardware has understood what Boulder wants

By Steven Wilke

Dave and Dee Hight remember 1948, when Dave started college at CU, as the year Boulder stole their hearts.The town was smaller in those days, with fewer than 20,000 people. Although it’s five times bigger now, the McGuckin Hardware owners grew right along with it.

In the Boulder Theater at the 20th Celebration of Leadership ceremony this spring, the Boulder Chamber recognized the couple with the Franny Reich Business Hero Award, a lifetime-achievement accolade. It has been given intermittently since 2005 to people instrumental in shaping the community through their dedication, influence and love.

The seed was planted when Dee’s dad, Bill McGuckin, first opened the doors of his hardware store in the fall of 1955, and it has done nothing but grow. One thing’s for sure—the ever-changing hardware organism is symbiotic with Boulder and the needs of its residents.

For decades, Dave and Dee nurtured McGuckin Hardware’s potential by putting almost every dollar of revenue either right back into the store or into the community. During their tenure they’ve jump-started other local businesses as well, including Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, RallySport Health and Fitness Club and Cherokee Data Systems.   

Dave, a businessman who believes in principle over price, has always said that if there are 36,000 small towns in America, there should be 36,000 small hardware stores owned by someone who lives in each of those communities. It’s a philosophy he’s modeled for countless local businesses throughout the years.

“We’re all in this together,” said Chamber President John Tayer, who hosted the April event. “We come together, we support each other, and it’s about all being in this together, building the fabric of a strong business community,” he said as he projected “The Boulder Video” between awards.

In the Spotlight

When the spotlight turned to the founding family, McGuckin Hardware president Barry Hight, Dave and Dee’s son, was the surprise speaker and the presenter of the award.

“I watched the image onscreen of the town where I grew up,” Barry told the crowd, including his teary-eyed parents at the foot of the stage. “They saw opportunities to fill a niche, to give a great product selection to the community and the people they are such a great inspiration to.” Service, customers, employees and the community, he explained, were all integral parts of growing the store into the 60,000-square-foot iconic business it is today.

“The newest person starting in business could take a lesson from Pops: ‘Let the customer be your guide,’” Barry said.  “And they’ve created so many friendships throughout their lives.”

He took a step back to clear the podium as the crowd warmly welcomed his parents to the stage and Dee, dressed in a black velvet jacket, stepped up to the microphone.

“I just want to thank you very much,” she said. “We’re not used to all this. We’re just worker bees. We’re very proud of what we’ve done. Customers, employees—they’ve grown with us, and we’ve grown with them.”

Dave spoke next, wearing a pinstriped suit and dotted tie. He said he knew Franny Reich very well. “Franny did a lot for Boulder,” Dave said, referring to the man who defined the city as an international beacon by bringing institutions here such as Ball Aerospace, IBM and the National Bureau of Standards.

“I want to thank my bankers, landlords and customers, and above all my family for putting up with me seven days a week working at the store,” he said before stepping back and allowing the crowd to erupt into a standing ovation.

For the Hights and their family, McGuckin isn’t just a hardware store; they think of it more as “a small town, downtown.”

“People can come in here on a stormy day, and they don’t have to buy anything,” Dave said. “They’ll meet friends and see what’s being done in the world, what’s being made.”

Perhaps Dave and Dee’s commitment to this small-town idiom is what allows Boulder to continue stealing hearts—and McGuckin Hardware to keep attracting loyal new customers. 

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Steven Wilke, a CU journalism graduate and freelance writer, lives in Boulder.  He spends his free time in the garden, dabbling with homebrews or writing short stories. You can contact him at steven.wilke@gmail.com.