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Owner of historic Loudoun hardware store killed with wife and kin in car crash

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By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The owner of Nichols Hardware, a historic family-owned shop in Loudoun County, his wife and one of her relatives were killed in a single-car accident near Front Royal on Sunday afternoon.

Edward E. "Ted" Nichols III, his wife, Karen Nichols, and five of her relatives were traveling on Route 55 in Warren County. The driver, Robert F. Louer, 65, of Florida, ran his Chevy Suburban off the side of the road, over-corrected and drove over an embankment into a tree about 2 p.m., Virginia State Police Sgt. Les Tyler said. Everyone in the vehicle was wearing a seat belt, and alcohol was not a factor, Tyler said.

Ted Nichols, 64, and Karen Nichols, 63, were killed, as was Doris D. Louer, who had recently turned 90. All lived in Purcellville.

Two passengers, Marilyn F. Louer, 62, and Cynthia Louer Fusselle, 51, were flown to Inova Fairfax Hospital. The driver and another passenger, David Louer, 71, were taken to a hospital.

Nichols Hardware in downtown Purcellville was founded about 100 years ago. Handed down through three generations, the store has kept its historic charm and handwritten receipts. Last year, a film crew began work on a documentary, "Nichols: The Last Hardware Store."

When store employees showed up for work Monday, they were met by Ted Nichols's uncle, Ken Nichols, who closed the store for the day. Pat Smale, who has worked there for 25 years, said he did not know when it will reopen.

"The whole crew is devastated," he said. "There's no man in there who hasn't worked there 15, 20 years. It's a family."

Sunday's crash was the second major tragedy for the Nichols family in three years. In September 2007, Nichols's father, Edward E. Nichols Jr., apparently killed his wife, Margaret H. Nichols, and then himself in their Loudoun home. Nichols Jr. ran the family hardware store for years and also was a member of the Town Council. Relatives said at the time that the couple, both 87, had struggled with health issues: She had Alzheimer's disease, and he was losing his sight.

After the deaths, Ted Nichols took over ownership and management of the store, with help from his uncle. In an interview last year with The Washington Post, Nichols said he worried who would take over next, as no one in the fourth generation appeared interested.

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