'Really a shame'

Shop to close for good if area man can't sell beloved business

George Herr had the mechanical knowledge, but he certainly wasn't a professional with motors.

 

After retiring from the oil industry, which included a five-year stint on the North Slope, Herr needed something to keep him busy.

So, he opened K-Beach Small Engine Parts & Service in 1995 and began building a business from the ground up. The technique was the same he had used several times during his oil service career for whatever position he was filling in as - mechanic, operator or any other really.

It was all on the job training.

"Trial and error," Herr said standing in his shop. "You work with them and it's OK if you have good enough mechanical knowledge. There are still a lot of missed calls you make."

Business started to pick up quickly and the small engines kept coming in.

"It is still picking up," the 77-year-old said with a grin.

Reaching into the top drawer of an old desk in his office, Herr pulled out a wrinkled, yellowed sheet of paper filled with numbers, each line slightly more in value than the previous.

"This is my first month, second month, third month," he said.

Although the shop started with meager earnings, it's grown into a profitable business, but Herr can't keep it anymore.

About a year ago, he first placed the dusty "For Sale" sign in the window. About a month ago, he started the newspaper and Internet advertisements.

Herr simply doesn't have the time to continue running the shop. Now, taking care of his wife Nancy who has medical troubles is tops on his list.

One of his sons, Joe, now runs the day-to-day of the store temporarily, but he doesn't want the responsibility, Herr said.

"He never did care for it and this year he's had enough," he said.

Only a few people have shown interest in buying the business nestled on the side of Kalifornsky Beach Road close to Soldotna. If it doesn't sell before winter, chances are Herr will close down his venture.

That's what his gut tells him, even though he'd still like to see his customers get their repairs taken care of.

He contends it's an interesting predicament to be in - to have a successful business doing needed services, but not be able to sell it.

"It turned out to be the business to get into," he said with a laugh. "It turned out to be more than a (hobby). It has been a real good business and it's really a shame. I hate to be shutting it down because a lot of people rely on it."

A local realtor recently sympathized with him on the subject, Herr said.

"He said it would be hard to sell this business because the banks won't loan nothing on something like that," he said. "Same with the inventory ... I'd want that amount as a down payment."

Surveying the back room of the store, Herr looked at the stacks of parts lining the walls, the heaps of motors, machinery and other items on the ground.

"People buy something and its like they figure it's going to run forever," he said. "Like some of the stuff people buy at Home Depot ... there's no rep in the area."

Herr said most of his business revolves around the seasons.

Springtime is when the mowers come out and the shop is always busy.

"It's a regular damn rat race," he said.

Fall is for chainsaws.

And soon enough the shop will start to see the snow blowers and other winter-battling devices in for a tune up.

"As long as you have a lot of snow, you're busier than hell," he said. "The last two or three years you only get an inch at a time and they don't even get the blowers out for that, they just drive on it."

Some of the younger crowd would rather spend the money on a new chainsaw, snow blower or lawn mower rather than spring for the repair, he contends.

"There are a lot of these dummies that go to Home Depot and buy it at the best price not even looking at it ever breaking down," he said.

"You get an older person and he is more into repairing it."

But, whatever happens in a few months - either selling or shutting down - it'll be hard for Herr to leave the mechanical life he has known for so long and the store he's known for more than a decade and a half.

"I've got a lot of good customers, and I want to let them know I'm getting out of it and thank them," he said. "There's people that come all the way up from Homer."

There's one part of the business he won't miss; the fact that some part suppliers have certain requirements and standards he can't meet. Like becoming a dealer of their product, for instance, which would require too much space and money.

Or, when one company goes out of business and he's stuck with a bunch of parts for engines that aren't being made anymore.

"Every once and a while you'll get one in and you'll have the part for it on the shelf whether it's a gasket or what not," he said.

"Like this old flathead here, there's a lot of them out there yet," he said.

He admits he holds on to those odd parts for "too damn long," much to his wife's dismay.

It's hard to let go of something that's bound to make money, he contends.

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