Wow, how about that mammoth west of Ann Arbor! No, no, not the woolly mammoth, but that place called Menards. The gigantic store that makes other big-box stores feel like shoeboxes! It’s like a Walmart mated with a Home Depot! How can you write about this place and not use too many exclamation points! General manager Mark Blumberg says that at 244,000 square feet (not counting outdoor lumberyard and garden space), “it’s definitely twice the size of Lowe’s” down the street, though he adds, “That’s a small Lowe’s.”

John Menard started his business in 1959, building pole barns in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and soon added a lumberyard to supply his construction crews. He called it Menards Cashway Lumber and opened stores around the Midwest.

As the chain grew, Menard began to buy truckloads of manufacturers’ overstock to find out what else people would throw in the cart when they went lumber shopping. He found they would buy anything from a mattress to a giant box of chocolate Cheerios. Today it’s easier to name what’s not at Menards than what is. Blumberg’s short list of what you won’t find here: TVs, computers, fresh produce, meat, guns. As for what is here, if you think of it, you can probably find some form of it: “clothing like jeans, gloves, work boots; deer stands; a garden center; a pet area; housewares; a lot of food for the average person.” In fact the tall shelves of snack foods and cereal are more than basic, they’re creative: baby-back-rib-flavored chips, for instance. Building supplies is the only area where Menards strives to be comprehensive: “longer-length lumber, up to twenty feet long, shingles, siding. We build our own roof trusses.”

As big as it is, the store is essentially one large pole barn, and, for a company that specializes in building them, this one seems to have taken a long time to materialize. Blumberg explains the delay: in between the groundbreaking and the completion, the store prototype was redesigned, and now features two mezzanines connected by a catwalk over in the lumber area. He said he knew nothing about and couldn’t comment on whether the redesign and the delay were related to a fatal accident last year in Macomb County where a customer was killed by a falling pallet of tile. Jeff Abbott, company spokesperson from the Eau Claire office, emails: “We’re unable to comment on pending litigation.” (Colletti vs. Menard Inc. is being litigated by Fieger Law.)

Blumberg, who has been with the company thirteen years, also declines to comment on one of the oddest aspects of the Menards employee contract, cited in a 2007 Milwaukee Magazine article: Menards managers are forbidden to build houses, even if they don’t buy a single nail from Menards. Abbott clarifies that that doesn’t apply to all managers: “Our General Managers are well-paid individuals and we request that they focus their attention on serving and satisfying our customers’ needs. In consideration, we ask that our General Managers avoid any situation that may place them or us in a compromising situation by simply purchasing a completed home if need be. Lower-level managers do not have this restriction.” Blumberg says that ban only affects “four or five people in the store.”

Menards has exploded into southeastern Michigan and Ohio. The Warren store was opening as Blumberg spoke, and he says three or four more will open in the region this year. The company builds a distribution center first–in this case, in Holiday City, Ohio–then begins populating the area with stores.

Scio Township trustee Jack Knowles says it’s not unusual for a Menards to be down the street from a Lowe’s. “These guys are similar to drugstores. They like to go head to head for some reason” and adds that “about eight years ago, a Home Depot was coming in, but that died when the economy went soft.” He says the Jackson Rd. store is zoned so the company can section off some of its large parking lot and front lawn into out-lots–probably for restaurants.

Menards, 6405 Jackson, 997-0603. Mon.-Sat. 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-8 p.m.