The episode: “The Horror of Party Beach,” ep. 817
The riff: Inquired by Tom after the movie’s female lead tells her father “Daddy, I’m so upset about Hank!”
The explanation: Hardware Hank is a popular chain of hardware and tool stores in the upper Midwest, originating in Minnesota, the cradle of MST3k. They own many hardware store locations throughout the Midwest, but the ones with the “Hank” name are mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. This is just one more example of the cast’s tendency to make references and jokes to their stomping grounds, especially the Minnesota region. It’s something you rarely would see in a cable TV show today, as they’re more concerned with references understood on a national scale. This is purposely obtuse–only someone in the upper Midwest could be expected to know what this means.
Novelty factor: As seems to be a common theme lately, I feel certain that I’ve heard them make this reference before in different episodes. Either way, I’ve heard of Hardware Hank before somewhere, but I don’t know when.