This year marks Dixie Aluminum’s 50th year in business. Reaching the gold anniversary isn’t easy to achieve these days, especially being a family-owned and operated business since the beginning.
Recently, the Keys Weekly sat down with managers and siblings Leah Stavor and Daniel Michael. They, along with their mother, owner Cindy Gray, are the second- and third-generation family members who operate the store, located at MM 88.5 in Islamorada.
“Business is good — we are busy,” Stavor said. “And we just laid a concrete slab on the side that we are excited about. The side yard was a dirt pit with mulch and big bag items. So, we wanted to put concrete to create more space. One of our 2023 upgrades of the year so far.”
Dixie Aluminium’s story began when Phil and Molly Michael came to the Florida Keys to see their friends on vacation. They drove by the hardware store and saw it was for sale. Back home, something came up with Phil’s work, which led to a conversation to see if they could buy the hardware store.
“They purchased it in 1973 and lived on the property as it originally had a two-bed, two-bath apartment,” Stavor said. “After a while, my grandparents bought a house in Tavernier and used that space for more inventory. My grandmother had a frame shop that included framing and artist jewelry; then grandpa took it over for retail space.
“It’s the original structure and was here before the Summer Seas condos across the street, so you could see the bay,” Stavor continues. “It’s neat to see the pictures, as it was one of the original buildings in this area. Initially, you would come up to the counter, and my grandpa would get what you wanted from all the little drawers. Now it’s self-service.”
Stavor remembers, “Some early memories of grandpa Phil is that even when he retired, he would come in from 9 to 11 a.m. and play solitaire in the back on the computer. He still wanted the experience of talking to his root customers.”
Their dad, Bob Michael, ran it when they were kids until he retired. As a teenager, Stavor worked on Sundays for a half-day, which was a family workday.
“I did that for a long time,” she said. “Then grandpa Phil passed in 2000, and grandma Molly passed in 2015 at 94. Grandma was pretty involved towards the end.”
Stavor said Daniel, her brother, came back to the store before her when he was 18.
“After a while he said, ‘I need help,’ and I said I was open to changing careers. Now, I work here part-time as I have two young boys. Daniel’s ambitious — I’m proud of him and everything he has done with the store.”
Michael said it was always in the back of his mind that he would take it over.
“We were brought up to assume that, and I started working in the store at 15. I always thought, ‘I could do this one day,’” he said. “I just started sooner than I had thought.”
Even though their mom, Cindy, is not on the floor with the customers, she is still involved as president of the business. Stavor refers to her as their “voice of reason and overseer.”
The name, Dixie Aluminum, came about from their specialization in aluminum and the name of the Keys’ main road – South Dixie Highway, before everyone knew it as U.S. 1. The business is part of the True Value family, which helps them with purchasing and procurement. True Value is a main supplier, and Dixie Aluminum has been with them since the ’80s.
“Our big thing is the customer service,” Stavor said. “We always try to have the best service we can possibly give (the public). Our team is seven people strong, and we have associates who have been with us for a long time.”
“We are personable, and we care about the community.” Michael added.
The local hardware store does aluminum jobs, from screens, shutters, enclosures and cuts on the spot. The store also has a marine section, plumbing section, electrical supplies and a lot of paint options, including custom match paint.
“In addition to basic hardware supplies and tools, we do a lot of custom orders for stuff that people can’t find in other places. We have welders here, and we can come out to meet with you to work on things such as gates and other custom things. We are working with someone who is doing custom boat trailers, so it’s fun to see,” Stavor said.
As for continuing the business into the fourth generation, Stavor said, “I would love to keep it in the family if my kids, Cameron, who is 1-1/2, or Julian, who’s 3, wants to take it over. My twin sister, Sara, has two daughters, or if Daniel has kids someday. But if they don’t want to, it’s fine too.”
Michael adds, “We are here because the community keeps us going, and we want to ensure we have what they need. That for me is what’s pivotal for us to continue.”
“It’s special to live in a place that supports us,” Stavor said. “It’s a blessing, a big blessing, and continues to be a blessing. The business has adapted, changed and grown, and we hope grandpa is proud of us.”
On Saturday, March 4, Dixie Aluminum is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a party to say “thank you” to the community. True Value is partnering on the celebration, offering special deals and discounts such as buy one, get one free on paint and other specials, food, clowns, balloons and raffles. The celebration is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dixie Aluminum is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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