Dave Hight, longtime McGuckin Hardware owner, dies at 91

A feather duster in his back pocket, a joke at the ready, a big laugh and a greeting for everyone he saw — those were the trademarks of Dave Hight, owner and CEO of McGuckin Hardware.

Hight spent 60 years tirelessly dedicated to his employees, his customers and his community, helping establish the hardware store as a cornerstone of Boulder. He died Monday night at 91.

Family, friends and employees remember Hight as someone who knew the value of people, befriending countless customers and treating hundreds of employees as his extended family. His work ethic helped cement McGuckin Hardware as a vital part of the business community, fending off corporate competitors and continuing to grow the store over the course of decades.

Bob Perkins, who now manages the sports department, began working at McGuckin 40 years ago as a salesperson in the plumbing department and recalls being immediately impressed by Hight’s care for his employees.

“He walked down to the floor with paychecks for every employee in his back pocket and he would greet everyone by first and last name and hand them the paycheck personally,” Perkins said.

Hight became a partner in his father-in-law Bill McGuckin’s hardware store in 1960. Alongside his wife, Dee, Hight steered the store from employing a handful of people to approximately 250, maintaining his commitment to hiring enough employees, fair pay and keeping an inventory on hand.

Those weren’t popular business decisions, said Clay Bonnyman Evans, who wrote the book “Behind the Green Vest” about McGuckin Hardware. When Hight had to order something in for a customer, he would always order two, Evans said — because if one person wanted it, surely someone else did as well.

“McGuckin is a family-owned business that from the beginning has managed to fend off every single assault by a corporate, big-box, online whatever came their way,” Evans said. “And when you step back and look at it and while those companies were cutting staff, cutting benefits and paying people poorly, McGuckin’s philosophy was completely different.”

Hight dropped out of the University of Colorado Boulder after one year because he couldn’t afford it, said his son, Barry Hight. After serving in the U.S. Navy and managing a store on Fremont Pass, Dave Hight moved with his family to Boulder.

“His famous words about coming to work for his father-in-law when he came home to my mom is, ‘I don’t know how one family does this, let alone two,” Barry Hight said, laughing.

Store manager Bernadette Tillis, who has worked at McGuckin for 30 years, remembers the store opening the Thursday after the 2013 floods and Dave Hight making daily trips to Denver or Colorado Springs to buy sump pumps so people could remove flood water from their homes. Lines of people would criss-cross the entire store waiting for him to return.

“His passion was serving his community. That was his No. 1 goal as long as I’ve known him, that from the time they opened the doors — ‘I want to be here for the community, give them what they’re asking for and take care of my people while doing that,’” she said.

Barry Hight recalled his father being on vacation in Fiji when a man from Mexico City approached him and said he recognized him. The connection? The man had taken a trip to visit his son at CU Boulder, come into McGuckin to buy fishing supplies and met Dave Hight.

Up until March, Dave Hight was still stopping by the store five, six or seven days a week. He began staying home, at his children’s urgings, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But he would still drive down and circle the store when it was closed, peering in the windows, Barry Hight said.

On one trip home from a doctor’s appointment in December, Barry Hight drove his father by the store where 25 employees had gathered on the loading dock to wish Dave Hight a Merry Christmas and sing to him.

“His dream was to be a good merchant in a small town and to be a part of a community,” Barry Hight said.

Dave and Dee Hight were recipients of the Boulder Chamber Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, signs of their impact on and support of the community, said chamber President John Tayer.

“There are a few iconic institutions in our community from a business perspective, and Dave, Dee and their family have elevated a simple hardware store to that status,” Tayer said.

Dave Hight is survived by his wife, Dee, sons Barry, Brent and Robb, eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and his beloved dog, Jessie Lou. No memorial services have been announced.

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