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Building for the future

Slow economy doesn't stop Spicher's

Slow economy doesn't stop Spicher's

September 14, 2008

In an economy that has consumers trying to spend less, longtime Hagerstown businessman Curt Spicher is spending $6 million more.

Spicher, president of Spicher's Appliance and Electronics is building a large new store plus space for several other businesses in Chambersburg, Pa.

Why now, of all times?

"This is for the long duration," Spicher said. "Don't make a decision based upon the way the economy is today when you know you're going to be around the next 100 years."

Spicher said construction of his new Orchard Drive Plaza strip center is well under way on a seven-acre tract he bought in the Chambers 5 business park early this year. Three acres of the property is reserved for future commercial development, he said.

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The new center, which is to open in November, will contain 36,000 square feet -- 9,000 of which is to be Spicher's new store showroom and 1,000 more a store warehouse. Spicher said he plans to hire about seven employees for the store, his third in the region.

He said his decision to move ahead with a strip shopping center, his company's first, came "mainly because of the opportunity that presented itself with the size of the land" that he was able to buy.

So now, in addition to his new store, three other stores have agreed to move into the center and there are other prospects, Spicher said.

Confirmed so far are: Dollar General; Sportsmans Liquidators, a discount sporting goods store that will still keep its store in Waynesboro, Pa.; and J&M Sports, which sells sports memorabilia and is going to retain its current store in Hagerstown's South End Shopping Center, he said.

A little history

Spicher's was founded in Hagerstown by Curt's grandfather, the late Charles Spicher, and his father, Carl, in 1955. The original store building was near Spicher's current location at 13427 Pennsylvania Ave., where it moved in 1986 when the economy was also sour.

"In spite of the economy, we're optimistic and going to go through with our plans," Curt Spicher told The Herald-Mail back then. His company had 25 employees then.

Today, the family-owned business has 64 employees between its Hagerstown store, which has a 10,000-square-foot showroom plus 15,000 square feet of warehousing, and its Winchester, Va., location. At the latter, there's a 10,000-square-foot showroom, but the warehouse is smaller.

All this growth didn't come fast.

Curt Spicher, now 45, remembers with a laugh that he was just a teenager when he started working in the business as a "backroom sweeper and window washer." After graduating from college in 1985, he began working there full-time and, eventually, became its president.

In 1991, he decided to buy a small company that also sold appliances in Winchester. In 1998, he moved it to its current location.

Spicher said the business was doing especially well in the heady days of 2004 and 2005, when houses were selling fast and his washers, dryers and other household appliances were much in demand.

"It was crazy busy like the Realtors were. You'd get a call from the developer. He'd say, 'Bring the appliances for Lot 49 and you might as well bring for 50 and 51 with it.'"

Spicher said he began to notice the economic slowdown in late 2006, when the housing market began to slip. "Long before the press started calling it a recession, we knew we were here -- a leading economic indicator with durable goods," like washers and dryers.

Through 2007 and now, well into 2008, the economy has continued to tighten and, with it, sales of washers, dryers and the like have slowed, Spicher said.

"A couple years ago, if the washer broke down, people would replace the dryer, too. Quite often now, we see them just replacing the piece (the washer or the dryer) that's broken." Or, he said, trying to repair it instead of buying a new machine.

As a result, Spicher's service calls have increased. Also up are sales of TVs and electronics, which he attributes to consumer demand for the new technology, not any positives in the economy.

So, overall, the company's business is "holding pretty constant from a year ago," he said.

What Spicher has learned over the years about slow economies is, he said, "they don't last, just the same as the good ones. It's like a pendulum -- keeps swinging back and forth."

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