Canton lumberyard moves downtown for business

Norma Nickelson cuts the Chamber of Commerce ribbon marking the opening of Nick’s Canton Hardware & Lumber on Main Street. Husband and business partner Nick Nickelson is to her right.
Norma Nickelson cuts the Chamber of Commerce ribbon marking the opening of Nick’s Canton Hardware & Lumber on Main Street. Husband and business partner Nick Nickelson is to her right.

Nick Nickelson and wife Norma have spent most of their years together either operating a lumberyard at various places in Kansas, or traveling coast to coast to help liquidate lumberyards.

The couple recently moved their lumberyard business, Nick’s Hardware & Lumber, to a downtown location in their adopted home town of Canton.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I have 65 years of experience,” said Nick, a native Kansan who grew up in Emporia and Salina.

Business path

Nickelson earned a degree from Emporia State University—knowns as Kansas State Teachers College at the time—in 1955.

“I’m probably one of those guys who probably should, retire but refuses to,” he said with a smile.

“Because my dad was in the lumber business, I got there, too,” he said. “I’ve learned there’s no way you can do it all, but I’m still trying. I now recognize what I can’t do anymore, so I have to rely on other people.”

When he left Emporia, he opened a lumberyard business in Great Bend for a time, and has built houses in a variety of small towns and cities across Kansas.

In 2008, he opened Nick’s Building Center, a lumberyard business in Marion.

“I’ve been in the lumber business all my life, except for a few years when I was doing something else.” he said.

That “something else” turned into 10 years of traveling and liquidating lumber yards and hardware stores.

“My wife and I traveled the country coast to coast five times, and from the Iowa/Minnesota state line to the Gulf,” he said. “We enjoyed it. We met a lot of fine people and helped them out of business. For the most part, they were retiring. That’s a nice deal to be able to help somebody do that.”

Eventually, Nick and Norma grew weary of the traveling.

“When we quit traveling, we started this business over there in Marion in 2008,” he said. “We moved to Galva and bought that store over there, but it was just too close to McPherson. So we moved over here to Canton.”

Norma, his wife and partner for 27 years, works in the business as well, mostly overseeing the business while Nick is out on deliveries.

“These people are happy, they want to grow, and we know how—so we’re hoping to help them,” Nick said of their reception in Canton. “I like to build houses. I used to do it, but I don’t anymore. I just get one started and have someone else drive the nails in. Then I like to promote them and sell them.”

Nick is convinced rural communities need affordable housing to help spur growth.

“I’ve built over 1,300 houses,” he said. “I started drawing them when I was in architectural class in high school. I was going to be an architect, but I finally gave that up for a business degree.”

Customer services

Nick said he has managed large lumberyards and smaller ones. His location at 112 N. Main St. in Canton is only 800 square feet.

“I’ve had large yards and I’ve had small yards,” he said. “The small yards force you to turn, and turnover is where money is made. I consider this a super small.”

Nick joked, “I kind of muscled my way in (to Canton’s downtown business district). I see an opportunity here, and I’ve been in business long enough to know.”

He said a business doesn’t have to be big to meet the needs of its customers.

“You can get anything you want here,” he said. “If I don’t stock it, I can get it. I’ve got three good suppliers and I’m trying to line up a fourth. They’re all close.

“My wholesalers, I can pick stuff up and get back here in two hours if I have to,” he added. “If I can wait on their truck, I can get it once or twice a week.”

Nick said he’s past the stage of building houses on his own, but he welcomes smaller projects from his customers.

“We fix windows and screens and stuff like that,” he said. “And I build small projects for people. Nothing really fancy, just whatever they need quickly.”

As for his skills, he said: “I’m not what I would call a cabinet builder or a finish carpenter, but I know how to put a rough frame together. I want the frame and everything perfect, then the finish carpenter can make it look good.”

Nick said he and Norma have found more than a business in Canton, they’ve found a home.