- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - George Altmeyer’s American Dream took root in the basement of a New Kensington bar but grew into a Pittsburgh area retail institution.

In April 1941, Altmeyer used $5,000 he scraped together, a business vision and a willingness to work hard to launch a dry goods business that bears his family’s name.

Seventy-five years after George Altmeyer started selling dry goods from the basement of Corbin’s Bar and Grill on 10th Street in New Kensington, Altmeyer Home Stores is still going strong.

The company sells towels, bedding, draperies and other dry goods and home furnishings at 11 stores in the Pittsburgh region as well as online through its website, BedBathHome.com.

Company president Robert Altmeyer, 54, George’s grandson, said the business survived because it was “a labor of love.”

“It wasn’t about the profit because many years we weren’t profitable,” he said. “My grandfather, who had an incredible work ethic, started it and my father, who had that same work ethic, kept it going.”

Altmeyer, who, while growing up, hand-drew the signs that appeared in the stores, said the 75th anniversary is mind-boggling.

“It’s hard for me to even come to grips with it at this point,” Altmeyer said.

A good connection

New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo, who is a lifelong resident, said he has never known the city without Altmeyer’s presence. Although Altmeyer’s closed its downtown store on Fourth Avenue in the 1990s, the company remains in the city through its store along Tarentum Bridge Road.

“The fact that they have been here for 75 years shows how important they are to New Kensington,” Guzzo said. “Everybody knows that Altmeyer’s is associated with New Kensington. They have been a tremendous business and they have been good for New Kensington. We’ve had a tremendous relationship with the family and the store.”

He said the city will honor Altmeyer’s when council issues a proclamation for the company’s anniversary Monday night.

George Altmeyer, who had only a sixth-grade education, once worked as a teenage stock boy at the now-defunct Hart’s Department Store in New Kensington.

Robert Altmeyer said his grandfather saw an opportunity when he noticed Hart’s did not sell dry goods, and his idea took off.

Soon he was selling his wares from a storefront on Fourth Avenue. Stores in Vandergrift, Butler, Latrobe and Ambridge followed.

Robert’s father, Rod Sr., entered the business in 1951 after earning a business degree at Ohio State University and serving in the Army as an armed forces radio announcer. Over the years, his baritone voice became familiar to people through the store commercials he recorded for radio and TV.

“That voice certainly kept my brother and I in line, if you can imagine,” Robert said. “It was like the voice of God.”

He said his father saw the increasing lure of shopping centers for consumers in the 1960s and expanded the business there. Meanwhile, his mother, Judy, helped manage the business as its secretary and treasurer.

Carrying the torch

Robert’s older brother, Rod Jr., started working in the business in the mid-1980s, managing the buying. He brought the “As Seen On TV” product line to the stores. He said his brother now is semi-retired and living in Florida but remains involved with the business.

As for himself, Robert said he wanted experience outside of the business after finishing college and worked in Macy’s buying division. Macy’s gave him an appreciation for technology that served him well when he rejoined the family business, he said.

“We used to do manual inventories, and that was killing us, so I brought in computers,” Altmeyer said.

Robert also said technology may lead the company to open stores in other states.

“My father always felt that you had to stay within an hour of a distribution center. But with the way technology is today, you really don’t have to do that,” he said. “There is no reason why we have to stay only here. If the philosophy works here, there is no reason why it can’t work in Columbus, Ohio.”

That philosophy is to maintain a fiscally conservative approach, know the market and give customers what they want at a good price.

He said his family and their buyers know the market well and have for years.

“People in Pittsburgh want style, but they know value,” Altmeyer said. “I think Pittsburgh shoppers are a little more practical.”

Altmeyer said the company’s enduring philosophy is why it is one of the few privately held linen specialty retailers in the country. He said the only other one he can think of is New England-based Ann & Hope Co.

“It’s easy to just throw up your hands and let the nationals take everything,” Altmeyer said. “But if you keep up with your business, if you watch your buying, you can compete with them.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1ZZK0Mg

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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