In 1927, Paul Thayer started a business in his home on West Seneca Street in Ithaca. He sold
radios, and soon the small business became more profitable than the job as a print shop teacher at Ithaca High School that was his primary source of income.
Thayer’s business exceeded the capacity of his house, and he bought an old tin shop on West Seneca St., which he tore down to build a store. By this time he sold other appliances besides radios, including refrigerators, stoves, washing machines and small appliances. He changed the name from Thayer Radio to Thayer Appliance, and 92 years later it still bears that name.
Paul Thayer’s grandson, Doug Thayer, proudly carries the torch as the current owner.
In between, Larry Thayer, 85, was owner from 1958 to 1995. And he still comes into work every Tuesday, though in a different capacity than when he ran the store himself.
He may circle the store to say hi and “harass the troops,” as he put it, but then he prefers to sit in the back room. Away from the chaos of the sales floor and the stress of handing financials, Thayer repairs Oreck vaccuums.
“I’ve enjoyed my semi-retirement very much,” Larry said. “Fortunately, at 85 I’m still able to go down there and do my thing with my hands, which I was never able to do it when I was running the business. I was too busy selling and promoting products; I didn’t have the time to do repairs or deliveries or anything like that.”
Over the years, Thayer Appliance has weathered the onslaught of big box stores and come out on top.
“The real reason is Ithaca is a small city, and they all know us,” Larry Thayer said. “We’ve withstood a lot of competition; in the old days it was local people like ourselves, and nowadays it’s the big box.”
He said his son Doug continued the store’s success by joining a New York City-based buying group that can secure appliances at relatively low prices. He said this current model is even more profitable than the way he used to do things.
“They unload one or two trailers of applainces every week,” Larry said, “and he’s doing much better than I ever did.”
It also comes back to the good reputation the Thayers have spent so many years building. “It’s the way you treat your customers—selling at fair prices, having knowledgable staff, knowing the product, and training the staff to know exactly what every appliance does,” Thayer said. “So that’s really the reason we’ve been so successful.”
One employee, John Ahrens, has been an installer with the store for 40 years. It’s also very much a family business. Tom Wright, Larry Thayer’s nephew, is store manager.
Now that Thayer is semi-retired, he has more time to spend with local social groups (he attends Rotary meetings at Coltivare every Wednesday), and his wife, Alice, who is also in good health and is an energetic companion to Thayer as they navigate the adventures of retirement together. They have been married 64 years.
Thayer said he is lucky to have much of his family still living nearby—his older son, Steven P. Thayer, is Ithaca’s City controller. The close proximity allows Thayer to spend time with his many grandchildren—just a day ago, he and Alice hosted a Friday evening pizza party at their home for 15 family members. The Thayers have kept up the tradition of pizza night for decades, he said.
Family who does live out-of-town provides a good excuse to do some wandering.
“We still do a lot of traveling,” Thayer said, though they prefer car travel to planes these days. A favorite spot is Williamsburg, VA. They also frequently visit their oldest daughter, Sue, in New Hampshire, where she resides. They often extend their trips to New Hampshire to include stops in Maine and Vermont.
“So we do get around the Northeast,” Thayer said. And he and Alice aren’t planning on slowing down anytime soon.
“Neither Ally or I are couch potatoes,” he said. “We enjoy getting out and doing things.
We’ve had a lot of fun so far.”