Harter Plumbing & Heating in Crystal City is closing up shop, after 108 years in business.
No exact closure date has been set. However, the shop, at 533 Bailey Road in Crystal City, will close when the store’s inventory is sold, said John Oberle, one of the owners.
“I have two silent partners,” he said.
Oberle, 82, of Festus said he has been working for Harter for most of his adult life, since Oct. 25, 1955.
“I had a two-year break when I was drafted into the Army in 1959-1961,” he said.
After his Army enlistment, Oberle joined the National Guard and served in it until 1985, but was able to work for the business during that time.
“I was a CW2 – chief warrant officer – when I got out,” he said.
Oberle said the store’s name refers back to when the business handled both plumbing and heating products. Since around 2007 or 2008, however, it has focused on plumbing materials.
The business was established in 1911 by F.W. Harter, Oberle said.
“The way I understand it, it started in the basement of what became the Crystal City Police Station,” he said.
Oberle said he is not sure about other locations where the shop may have operated, but it has been at its present site since 1963.
For years, Oberle worked for the late Paul Harter, a relative of the founder, but sometime in the 2000s, Oberle became the majority owner of the business.
Eventually, Oberle’s son, Eric Oberle, 53, of De Soto, joined the business and has been helping run it.
Eric Oberle, who describes himself as an employee, said all the competition in the plumbing supply industry, including big box stores and online retailers, led to the difficult decision to close the store.
“Realistically, it’s the competitive market for what we do,” he said. “Something’s got to go when you’ve got that many people competing for the same customers.”
He counted out about 10 area businesses that sell basic plumbing products.
The problem is, he said, those who need something beyond basic plumbing products will be hard pressed to find someone who sells the kind of specialty items that can be found in the Harter inventory.
“We have items they don’t,” he said.
Another problem, Eric Oberle said, is a lot of those other stores don’t have people with plumbing knowledge like those who work at Harter Plumbing & Heating.
Another relative, Adam Dolan, also works at the store.
John Oberle said it was tough to start the going-out-of business sale.
“I have very mixed emotions, but it’s a necessary thing,” he said. “We tried to sell (the business). It didn’t work out.”
Oberle said many customers have been disappointed to hear about the impending closure.
“The people who have been very faithful to us understand,” he said. “People who have come in periodically say, ‘You can’t close.’
“A lot of them just use us for a source of information. That doesn’t pay the bills.”
Oberle said he is proud of what Harter has offered the area.
“I think we did a very successful job of filling a need in the community,” he said.
For example, Oberle said he has had a special relationship with St. Pius X High School in Crystal City.
“I did 25 years of free plumbing work at St. Pius – never charged for it,” he said.