La Plata TV & Appliance clos­ing af­ter 62 years

Owner look­ing for­ward to re­tire­ment, thank­ful for loyal cus­tomers over the years

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

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.

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