La Plata TV & Appliance closing after 62 years
Owner looking forward to retirement, thankful for loyal customers over the years
La Plata TV and Appliance is closing its doors next Wednesday after more than 62 years in business.
Started by Albert Elder Jr. in November 1954 at 203 E. Charles St. in La Plata (now the spot for Pizza Hotline), his son Kevin joined the business full time when he was 17 and has been there ever since, taking over the business in 1981 when his dad retired. He is now closing the doors Feb. 15 and has sold the building and property.
“We put the signs on the building on the 15th [of January], and at four o’clock that afternoon we posted it on Facebook,” Kevin Elder said. “I’m not a Facebook
person, but it went to over 25,000 people within 24 hours.”
“It was crazy the first couple of days,” said Bon- nie Elder, Kevin’s wife. “People were parking on the grass it was so full. He sold out of the TVs in the first few days.” Bonnie works another job in insur- ance but helps out around the store on occasion.
“I had my best month, ever, in business in the month of January once I announced the retirement,” Kevin said, ”because of the support from the community. I still have some inventory of appli- ances left, and I have Ra- dio Shack inventory that I’m drastically reducing to move it on out and make as many people happy as possible.”
“He’s had people come in and buy appliances just in case they go out in the next year or so,” Bonnie added.
Back in 1973, the same year that Albert Elder Jr. took on the Radio Shack franchise to help get through a recession, the then-20-year-old Kevin was asked to take over management of the busi- ness from his uncle, Robert Elder, who left to pur- sue another career. The third of the Elder broth- ers, Dutton, would go to work exactly 40 years to the day at the store fix- ing TVs and appliances and working on outdoor antennae. He died in De- cember at the age of 86. Albert died in 1998 and Robert still keeps in touch with Kevin.
“I actually called him and he said, ‘Good for you,’” Kevin said about his uncle’s response to his retirement. “Robert left when I was 20 years old. He was the one that ran the store and I took over from him.”
Kevin would need to learn how to run a business and work on growing it. Eight years later at the age of 28 he bought the business from his father to allow him to retire.
“As time went along, I expanded the appliance business and had many, many nice dealers to deal with, and a huge custom- er base,” Kevin said. “At one time, I had lots and lots [of builders]. But, as you’ve seen, the market changed here, you don’t have as many.”
He said he had 44 local builders buying appliances — and getting the per- sonal service — from him before the housing crash and subsequent recession starting in 2008. By the time it was all over, he was down to five builders.
“My guys did a great job: they protected the floors, they hooked the appliances up, they checked the appliances. It’s really a service you don’t get from all the other stores. That’s what our niche in the mar- ket was,” Kevin said.
Thor Barrs, superinten- dent and partner at Forrest Builders in Newburg, backed that up.
“The business extends well beyond Kevin him- self,” Barrs said in a telephone interview. “I don’t have any happy com- ments to see [La Plata TV & Appliance] go away. It’s going to affect the way I do business. Nobody provides service the way he does.”
Barrs said in the 25 years Forrest Builders has been in business, the homebuilder has gotten its appliances from La Pla- ta TV “at least 20 of those years.”
He said the store’s clos- ing has him wondering where he’s going to go for products and services.
“I’m going to have to look around at some of the other local business- es in the area,” he said. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do about it yet.”
As the number of commercial customers dropped off in the reces- sion, the loyalty of indi- vidual customers that had purchased their appliances and electronics there kept the business humming.
“The customers, espe- cially during the reces- sion, it was their loyalty to doing business with a small business person that really kept us going over those difficult times,” Bonnie said.
“We were able to stay open because the custom- ers stayed loyal,” Kevin added. “It was tough for everybody.”
Kevin and Bonnie raised two children, a son and daughter, both of whom are out of college and have their own careers and families. Despite the long hours of a business own- er, Kevin made time to coach their sports teams when they were young.
Their son did some odds and ends around the shop on occasion, but their daughter helped with deliveries while growing up, later working at the store for a year before heading off into the nursing field.
Kevin’s sister, Mar yBeth Dean, has worked there for the last 10 years or so taking care of the account- ing and finances. Among his other three employees is Brian Grumbine, sales manager, who said he’s enjoyed his two and a half years working at the store and is confident he’ll find something back in region- al management, what he did before working at La Plata TV & Appliance.
“The family has always been good to me,” the White Plains native said. “It’s a very short com- mute. I’ve loved it here.
“It impressed me how the community and the business really intertwined,” Grumbine added, talking about the loyalty of the customers.
Kevin said he looked into selling the business but “saw that it just wasn’t going to happen. Then I put the property and building up for sale. That’s how I’m able to actually retire.”
Bonnie still has a few more years of work ahead of her, but they plan to use some of her leave to do some traveling they’ve always wanted to do. They have an 8-month-old grandson in Woodbridge, Va., and plan to visit him more often as well.
“I’m hoping that my golf game can get better,” Kevin said. “I think just having Saturdays off will be a wonderful thing. I’ve just never had Saturdays off.”
“He’ll sleep in the day after Thanksgiving for the first time in his adult life, and the day after Christmas,” Bonnie said with a chuckle.
“There’s also a really long to-do list at our house,” she added.
Kevin and Bonnie Elder pose for a picture in the showroom of La Plata TV & Appliance last week. Kevin is closing the store, started by his father 62 years ago, on Feb. 15 to retire.