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Everyday people: Albarado 'runs the show' at Bay City Hardware

Judy Albarado, nearly 73 years old, has been working in the Bay City area her entire life. Albarado works as the general store clerk at Bay City Hardware.1 / 6
Judy Albarado stacks bullet case boxes on top a soft-drink cooler after doing some dusting. -- photo by Stacy Bengs2 / 6
Judy Albarado shares a laugh with one her bosses, owner Sam Blue, at Bay City Hardware. -- photos by Stacy Bengs3 / 6
Old-fashioned hardware stores seem to be a thing of the past. Bay City Hardware's general store clerk Judy Albarado remembers when the store "carried on quite a tradition in town."4 / 6
Answering the phone is one of Judy Albarado's daily duties.5 / 6
Judy Albarado looks out the front windows of Bay City Hardware where she works as a general store clerk. -- photos by Stacy Bengs6 / 6

BAY CITY, Wis. -- Old-fashioned hardware stores filled with nameless doodads and perplexing gadgets are of dwindling generation. The few remaining establishments scattered throughout towns and rural communities often serve as a common place to gather, socialize and, of course, talk tools.

Bay City Hardware fits the model. But perhaps what makes this place unique is not what you buy, but who you buy it from -- store clerk Judy Albarado.

The nearly 73-year-old remains a staple to the store and small-town community. Born only a few miles outside the village limits, Albarado is one of a few original living residents in Bay City.

"I never got out of here," she said with a laugh.

Albarado spent the majority of her life working as a waitress, charming locals and passersby at three different cafes in the once booming village.

In 2004, she was offered a job by a good friend, the late Eileen Tyler, to work at the local hardware store. Tyler, along with husband Tom had owned the business since the 1960s and "carried on quite a tradition in town," said Albarado, who frequented the shop countless times in her youth.

With no questions asked, she joined the team where she works to this day.

When the building was sold in September 2010 to a younger duo, siblings Missi and Sam Blue, Albarado maintained her position as the general store clerk.

As dramatic merchandise and cosmetic changes have evolved in the store, Albarado's presence and overall ability to attract acquaintances remains the same.

"I enjoy work and like the people" Albarado said. "When customers walk through the door it's 'Hi, Judy.'"

Responsible for answering phones, book work, writing orders and whatever else needs to done, she maintains business and "runs the show," as owner Sam Blue says.

"I know everyone," Albarado said of the store's daily regulars, "I've seen many of these people all my life."

Working 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday gives Albarado time for long weekends with her eight living children, 25 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren -- the farthest away living in Cannon Falls.

"Between all the kids, if I need something there is someone that is there to help me," she said as she lists off occupations ranging from an electrician to beautician.

Recognized by locals and non-locals alike, Albarado's presence in the area has left a lasting impression.

While spending time with an aunt at the Red Wing Health Center five years ago, Albarado thought she has recognized another woman's face. Not quite able to place the face -- she was approached by the nameless woman's husband.

"He asked me, 'Did you work at Larry's in the 1980's?'" Albarado said. The gentleman was referring to Larry's Broiler. Sure enough, she had.

"He remembered who I was," Albarado said, "25 years later."

It's as if she has her own fan base -- on a Bay City-size scale.

"Just the other day a gentleman stopped in," Albarado acknowledged. "He only comes here once a year, walks in and says, 'Hi, Judy' ... my boss was really impressed. She said, "Oh he knew who you were!"

Although the majority of customers stop at the store looking for hardware pieces or most recently sporting goods, some loyal patrons are still popping in -- just for Judy.

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

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