People of Lincoln Square, you said you wanted a neighborhood hardware store. Matt Kollar was already one step ahead of you.
Actually, he was two years ahead of you. That’s how long Kollar has been eyeballing the vacant storefront at 4874 N. Lincoln, the former home of Lincoln Square Hardware, which has stood empty ever since the previous tenants decided to focus their efforts on Stauber Ace in Northcenter. After applying to more than a dozen banks for financing, Kollar finally obtained approval from Wells Fargo and has since been moving full steam ahead to open Matty K’s Hardware before Thanksgiving.
“It took a lot of patience. It was a job in and of itself to get the financing,” says Kollar. “If I didn’t believe in this, I’d have given up after the first bank said no.”
Born into an entrepreneurial family, Kollar doesn’t discourage easily. “I love running my own businesses,” he says. In fact, he started up his first venture, Left Wing Scenic, which specializes in theatrical construction and design, before the ink was even printed on his diploma from Loyola University. “I guess it’s just something ingrained in me,” he explains. “If there’s a need to be filled, I can fill it.”
In the case of Matty K’s, Kollar saw not only a neighborhood in need of a hardware store, but an opportunity to serve his fellow theater contractors. The specific tricks of their trade, frequently discussed in a forum on Facebook, can be difficult to obtain locally. “There are certain paints, additives and hardware that you wind up ordering from out of town,” Kollar says. When it opens, Matty K’s will devote three aisles to materials coveted by scenic and lighting designers.
For the average DIY-er, or the person simply in search of a string of Christmas lights, Matty K’s will carry a complete array of seasonal items, paint, tools, lawn and garden (including an outdoor garden market in the spring) and “a full line of bolts and nuts.” Despite the presence of several Home Depot stores within five miles of Matty K’s, Kollar is confident his independent David can compete against the big box Goliath.
“In Chicago, five miles is like 20 in the country,” he says. “We’re very much a walking and biking community.” Along with foot traffic, Kollar also aims to attract shoppers in search of that elusive something known as customer service. (Anyone who’s ever helplessly wandered a vast warehouse in search of an employee who won’t turn and run on sight knows of what he speaks.) “People want advice from someone who can help them,” Kollar says. To that end, he’s hired four full-time employees, each with a specific area of expertise, be it paint, flooring, construction or gardening. “They’re all very knowledgeable people who can help customers with very different needs. We’ll even have the grizzled old guy who knows everything; that’ll be me in a few years,” Kollar jokes.
It’s hard to picture the boyish Kollar as anything approaching grizzled; even the mad schedule he’s keeping to refurbish Matty K’s has failed to dampen his infectious enthusiasm. “I usually start my day around 7 a.m. and get home around 8 p.m., seven days a week,” he says, which is pretty close to the hours Matty K’s will keep: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily. “No, I’m not going to be here every hour,” says Kollar, then adds, “well, initially I will be.”
Having inherited a space that had been “stripped down to bare floors and no ceilings,” Kollar and crew have been rebuilding the hardware store from the ground up. In his unfurnished, unpainted, unlit, unheated “office,” Kollar conducted our interview using overturned buckets for chairs, taking a brief break from assembling shelving units. To maintain a semblance of a life, Kollar, who’s married and has a one-year-old daughter, has scaled back his role at Left Wing. “People have stepped up and taken over the scenic shop; I’m more managerial now,” he says. “I’ll miss that, though. I love to design.”
A Rogers Park native who’s never lived more than a mile from his childhood home, Kollar originally enrolled at nearby Loyola to study acting. “But they quickly found out I could use tools,” he says. “I just loved finding practical solutions to creative problems.” Under the tutelage of Daniel Ostling, a Tony-award nominated scenic designer who frequently collaborates with certified genius Mary Zimmerman, Kollar gained the skills that would lead him to found Left Wing and Matty K’s.
Over the past 10 years, he’s worked on productions for a number of local theaters, including Steppenwolf, Goodman, Chopin and Remy Bumppo. Among his more unique challenges: building a water torture cell for a production featuring the character of Harry Houdini.
OK, so he can design a set that flips from an indoor mantel and fireplace in Act 1 to an outdoor fountain and garden in Act 2. But can he fix a leaky faucet? Kollar, a self-professed handyman, confesses to flooding his kitchen an hour before his daughter’s birthday party. As for all the other items on his “honey do” list: “My wife has come to appreciate the tagline at home, ‘In a couple of weeks, I can get it wholesale.’”