Munson Clan Going Strong For 50 Years
Munson’s Building Supplies has come a long way since the days of three employees, one truck and no customers.
On Friday, June 20, the family-owned store celebrated 50 years as one of Oneonta’s premier building supplies store, with loyal customers including Unique Builders and Orpheus Theater. Six-hundred people stopped by for food, music by Party of Two, door prizes and a chance to congratulate the family on a half-century of success.
So loyal are their customers that when Unique Builders’ Joe Camarata couldn’t make the festivities, he came by the next morning and brought Steve Munson a cup of coffee so they could catch up like old friends.
“It’s a great place,” said Tim Northup, who owns Timothy Northup Fine Furnishings. “My grandfather shopped here, my dad shopped here and now I shop here.”
In 1955, Fred and Audrey Munson were facing a dilemma over what to do with their struggling Emmons Skateland. “A gentleman downtown told me, ‘Go into the lumber business’,” he said. “I told him I didn’t know anything about it. He told me, ‘You’ll learn’.”
It was a struggle at first to get started. “Wholesalers are afraid of failure,” he said. “But finally, Robbins Door & Sash took me on.”
And with that, Munson’s was in business. “Mr. Ernie Meyers was my first customer,” said Fred. “He said, ‘Don’t you forget, Mr. Meyers was your first customer!’ And I never did forget that.”
He hired Walt Decker of East End Lumber Co., which had just gone out of business, in customer service, and Audrey took over bookkeeping.
It was a tough start, working seven days a week to unload lumber brought in on boxcars. Even the boys pitched in. “I was 14 when we opened, and I started working right away,” said Steve. “As soon as I got my driver’s license, I was driving the delivery truck.”
And their younger son, Mike, got started even earlier – but maybe not in the way the family intended. “I tried to drive the forklift when I was 11,” he said. “I was trying to impress some of the kids down the street. Luckily, I didn’t wreck anything!”
By the winter of 1967, the store was in peril, turned down for a loan from Wilber Bank, and it looked like the store would have to close. “Audrey knew the president of the bank from way back; he saw her grow up,” said Fred. “We got a meeting with him, and I can still see him there, smoking his big cigar. He said to Audrey, ‘I’ll override the board, but I’m putting my name on this, so you’ve got a big job ahead of you. If you make it through the winter, you’ll survive.’ Wilber Bank was good to us, and we remained loyal to them.”
It was a gamble that paid off, and the business began to thrive. Sheds were built to store more inventory, and more help was hired. Steve, now back from the military, came to work fulltime, with Mike and their daughter Shirley’s husband Bob Goble joining soon after.
But in May 1979, a fire destroyed all but one building on the lot. “One of the lights got hot and started up in that corncob tile on the ceiling,” said Fred. “It was devastating.”
“We were here rebuilding sun up to sundown six days a week,” said Steve. “Fridays, we got to go home at 6. It was a long summer.”
But the store came back better than ever that fall, building more pole barns to store even greater inventory. Audrey retired in 1988, turning over office duties to Shirley, and though Fred claimed to have retired and turned the business over to Steve, Mike and Bob, at 91, he still comes into work every day.
And on Friday, Fred got one more surprise. “A fellow came in and he said, ‘Do you know me’?” said Fred. “I didn’t, so he told me it was Meyers – I asked, ‘Is Ernie your father?’ and he said yes … and I had a story for him.”