- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

DU QUOIN, Ill. (AP) - Before the store opens, and before the howl of engines and chatter of customers takes over, Jess Coffel and Bill Hamburger sit in their metal stools, and they talk. They talk about their grandkids and doctors’ appointments and how the business is doing.

“That’s what sets us apart, we’re so close that we’re not afraid to talk about what is weighing on us,” Hamburger said. “We’ve been friends for a long time and we always talk it out.”

Then, as they have for the last five decades inside B and J Power Equipment, they flip the outdoor sign to “open,” and wait for the ding of the front door.

“That’s why we come to work every day, we love hearing that front door swing open, and the people that come in and helping them,” Hamburger said. “We never get tired of that.”

Recently though, those early morning conversations have centered on something that’s hard to talk about: retirement.

“It’s just time,” Hamburger, who is 78, said. “If we weren’t so tired of the daily grind, we’d keep doing it.”

For 55 years, 10 Mulberry St. in Du Quoin has been a trove for lawn mowers and obscure machine parts of the John Deere, Snapper and Stihl variety, catered to a stream of dedicated customers from Du Quoin and around Southern Illinois.

Together, Coffel and Hamburger have become somewhat of a fixture in town, as the Chamber of Commerce named them citizens of the year in 2012.

John Gibson, who has worked at the store for 14 years, says it will be hard to see the store without his bosses standing behind the counter.

“The one thing about their business is it’s them — it’s Jess and Bill,” Gibson said. “They have a huge customer base of all generations that come back for how friendly they are and how much they care.”

As Coffel and Hamburger are set to sell their shop within the next month or so, Gibson hopes some of the duo’s values remain.

“It’s good to work with people like that you’re not just selling something,” he said. “They have character and it feels like a family — that is what people will remember about their place.”

Coffel, who is 77, says he has just about all of his customers’ addresses memorized after years of pickups and deliveries.

“I think people come back because we offer a good service and we get things right,” he said. “In the repair business, you don’t always get it right the first time.”

While Coffel always seems to have grease on his hands, the office is Hamburger’s domain, as he pays the bills and orders the parts they don’t have.

“I’m watching the figures more, and I’m the one looking at the computer,” he said. “If I can save a nickel somewhere, I’m going to do that.”

That’s only one ingredient in Coffel and Hamburger’s longtime fit as business partners.

While Hamburger enjoys reading a good book, Coffel would rather fish in his free time. And they agree that Hamburger keeps to himself more.

“If Jess has something on his mind, you’re going to know right away,” he said. “Not so much with me.”


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/1QC0qFc


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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