Hamilton business celebrating 100th anniversary this year: This is its story

Al-Joe’s Pet & Garden Centers in Hamilton has survived the Great Depression, World War II, the Covid-19 pandemic and other difficult economic times to reach its 100th anniversary this year.

The product the family-owned company seems to hold most pride in is its Fort Hamilton Grass Seed, which is a proprietary blend of grasses, including fescue and rye grass that Al-Joe’s boasts has been Butler County’s best for 70 years.

“It’s made to grow in the high-clay soil that we have in Butler County,” said Sophie Grollmus, manager of the Hamilton store. The company sells about 10,000 pounds of it a year.

T-shirts were made to celebrate the century mark with the pun, “100 years & still growing!”

“It’s super exciting,” Grollmus said. “It’s kind of surreal, really,” especially, she said, given all the difficult times the company has survived.

Her great-grandfarther, Al Huesman founded the business in 1921 on A Street in Hamilton. It began as a bird-seed seller, initially for house pets such as parakeets and canaries. Later, they added food for outdoor birds. Joe Huber was a partner initially, (the other name in Al-Joe’s), but he left to work in factories during WWII, said Grollmus.

The company moved a couple of times before the move to the current location at 173 N. Brookwood Ave. The company has about 30 employees. The West Chester store at 4902 Union Centre Pavilion Drive opened in 2013 and has six.

During World War II, when Victory Gardens were popular, the company added garden seeds. In the late 1950s, at the insistence of her grandfather, Paul Grollmus, lawnmowers, landscape supplies and other equipment were added.

Sophie Grollmus and her cousin, Abby Grollmus, grew up in the store.

“This used to be our playground, growing up as kids,” she said. “We would run around and jump on the mulch piles. There used to be a pile of fertilizer that sat in the front of the room, and we’d sit up there. Our grandpa, he’d get so mad at us, yell at us to get down off there, because we didn’t know what kind of chemicals were in there.”

“We’re definitely not the most Fortune 500 people, all business,” she said. “We like to be loose and have a good time, and make people feel like they’re at home. I tell people it’s because we harass them and make them feel like they’re at home, that’s why.”

The store’s secret weapon recently is shop dog Rosie, a beautiful 1½-year-old Newfoundland. Some people drop in to visit her.

To celebrate the large anniversary, the family in May had a party for store’s centennial.

Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates said the 100th anniversary is remarkable: “Any business in this day and age that not only survives but thrives through everything that is handed to them. It’s passion, tenacity and hard work. And treating the customers right.”

Not many Butler County companies are that old. Hamilton Caster is 114.

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