HOMER — It’s not too hard for Homer Saw and Cycle owners Claire Waxman and Bob Schmutzler to keep track of how long they’ve owned their Ocean Drive business. All they have to do is count the candles on the birthday cake of their son, Jake.
This year, that will be 25 years. With former partner Mikel Bensend, Waxman and Schmutzler bought the business in January 1987 from Les Crane and Gates Brown. Ten months later, Jake was born.
As their son has grown up, so has the ever evolving and changing business. The name only describes part of Homer Saw and Cycle’s product line. To be precise and include all the product lines, it would be Homer Saw, Cycle, Snowmobile, All-terrain Vehicles, Skis, Snowshoes, Clothing, Socks and Shoes. Whew. That long list of products reflects Waxman and Schmutzler’s business philosophy.
“We’re on the lookout for what the town needs and how we can bring that here at a reasonable cost,” Waxman said.
When they bought Homer Saw, it had been Sporter Arms and Homer Saw and Chain, two businesses under one roof at what is now the Sewciable Quilts building on Ocean Drive. Waxman and Schmutlzer moved Homer Saw into what’s now Homer Real Estate at the east end of Ocean Drive. In 1992, Bensend left the partnership and Homer Saw and Cycle moved across the street to its current building next to the Wagon Wheel on the corner of Ocean Drive and FAA Road.
Chainsaws have been the cornerstone of the business since the start. Homer Saw started out selling and repairing both the Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaw brands. It dropped Husqvarna after the company started selling in big chain stores.
“We couldn’t get the quantities we wanted to get,” Waxman said. “Stihl supports the independent, small dealer, and we went with them.”
Homer Saw and Cycle also sells other Stihl products, such as brush cutters.
That’s another part of their philosophy, Waxman said.
“We try to concentrate on brands that aren’t carried in the big box stores,” she said. “They are higher quality. It costs you less because it lasts longer.”
“That’s what we’ve made our business out of: high-end, high-quality, good-service products,” Schmutzler said.
Such a philosophy also is environmentally responsible, Waxman said.
“I truly think the better quality items — you purchase less of them,” she said. “It winds up being better for everything. Environmentally, you’re buying it once.”
The bicycle side of the business came in 1989, when mountain biking started becoming known in Homer. By then Homer Saw also had been selling Monitor oil stoves and woodstoves. When Waxman and Schmutzler were talking to Cannondale, a bicycle company, Waxman told them “We’re kind of a strange shop for mountain bikes.”
That was OK. Another shop sold bikes and wood stoves, the bike dealer told her.
“And we said, we sell them with wood stoves — and chainsaws,” Waxman said.
Monitor stoves boomed in a time when Homer people began working more out of the home and had less time to constantly feed wood into stoves. For a while, Homer Saw and Cycle was the top Monitor dealer in the Pacific Northwest. They quit selling Monitors when the company moved its line to another local dealer — not through any fault of theirs, Waxman said.
“After we didn’t have Monitor anymore, we concentrated on what we did have, and our business grew,” she said.
Homer Saw and Cycle also quit selling woodstoves. They added another line that takes up floor space — Polaris snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. When Quiet Sports closed its business, Homer Saw and Cycle started selling skis, ski gear, snowshoes, outdoor clothing, and boots and shoes. Product lines come and go, as do manufacturers.
“We’ve always looked for what’s the next thing, and try to keep on top of that,” Waxman said. “We’ve tried some things. They didn’t work. We’ve tried some other things. They work. My job is always looking for the next big thing.”
One big change similar to what other local stores face is competition from big box stores up the road and web stores like Amazon. Homer Saw and Cycle offers something those stores can’t: good customer service, skilled mechanics, a different variety.
“We know people have choices now and we’re glad they come here,” Waxman said.
Waxman’s job also is to run the front counter, place orders, keep the books and take inventory. Schmutzler and mechanic Dave Schroeder work in the back, repairing chainsaws, bikes, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
Oh, and that’s another milestone. Schroeder has been with Homer Saw and Cycle 20 years. He’s the Polaris mechanic and also has top-level training in Stihl repairs. The three of them keep the store going, with occasional part-time workers.
That’s another big change Schmutzler has seen in the store: the increasing complexity and reliability of chainsaws, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. Where engines once had carburetors, now everything has electronically controlled, fuel-injected engines. Learning how to run diagnostic equipment and repairing the new engines has been a huge learning curve for him and Schroeder.
“There’s a standing joke: the mechanics are being replaced by what’s called a technician,” Schmutzler said.
That’s resulted in better products, though — cleaner burning, more efficient and dependable.
“We don’t do engine rebuilds anymore,” he said. “They don’t fail.”
Their son Jake Schmutzler literally grew up in the store, Waxman said.
“He was kind of raised here at the job,” she said. “He was here most of the time.”
She remembered when he was a boy, Jake would approach big loggers with a book as they came into the store.
“These logger guys would sit on the floor and read to him,” she said.
As Jake grew up, she’d give him odd jobs — a nickel for taking boxes up stairs, 50 cents for unpacking bikes. Eventually Jake became a bike mechanic. A photographer, he’s now living in Portland, Ore., going to school. It’s Jake’s voice you hear on the answering machine, too. If needed, Jake can step right in and work the counter, as he did when Waxman took a year off for cancer treatment.
Despite life and business challenges, Homer Saw and Cycle has become one of Homer’s viable, locally owned small businesses.
“For a certain amount of years, I was worried every month. Am I buying the right amount of things? Can I afford to pay the bills?” Waxman said. “I don’t worry about that anymore. We’re paying our bills. We’re here.”