Reichlin's to go out of business 'We're growing houses instead of crops'

March 31, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

After Saturday, the creaking wooden door at Reichlin's will be closed forever. The slight smell of grease and soil may linger in the air, but the answering machine with its "Fur Elise" chime will no longer respond to customer calls.

Reichlin's, the only Massey Ferguson farm equipment dealer in Carroll County, is going out of business after a two-day auction at the Westminster store this weekend.

"I've had a lot of enjoyable years here," says Carl Reichlin of his business on Leister's Church Road. "I've had a lot of friendships, a lot of experiences and a lot of memories. I don't regret it."

But a changing Carroll County, combined with the recent slack economy, has forced Mr. Reichlin to consider retirement at the age of 62, he says.

The Baltimore County native started the business 37 years ago with his brother in a building off Green Street in Westminster. The Reichlins moved to the current location in 1966, and Carl Reichlin took over the business in 1969.

"We're growing houses instead of crops," says Mr. Reichlin from his office -- a wooden desk and two chairs tucked in a closet-sized space behind the sales counter. "Business had dropped off to the point that it had become nonprofitable, so there didn't seem much sense to keep on going."

Hard economic times for farmers mean hard times for farm equipment stores, he says.

"We're all in the same boat," Mr. Reichlin says. "People's jobs aren't as secure, so those that can buy aren't as likely to. When I go to the grocery store, even I look at the prices of the soap powder to compare."

William Powel, Carroll County's Agricultural Land Preservation Program administrator, says Reichlin's closing leaves two full-service farm equipment dealers in the county.

The rest sell small tractors and implements used by part-time farmers on smaller parcels of land, he says.

"We're seeing two extremes -- more small farmers looking for small tractors and fewer larger farmers renting a great deal of farmland traveling some distance to get competitive bids for farm machinery," Mr. Powel says.

However, those extremes don't mean agriculture in Carroll County is in danger of dying.

"As economics forces the dealers to be larger and larger, there's going to be fewer of them," Mr. Powel says. "With the specialized equipment we have today, it doesn't require as many dealers or that the dealers be as close together."

That doesn't make things any easier for the Reichlins.

"The store has been around a long time, as long as I can remember," says 26-year-old Vicky Reichlin McDonold, her father's business partner. "I'm sure it's hard for my dad. It's been a major part of his life."

Although she has been around the business since she was "big enough to walk," Ms. McDonold officially joined Reichlin's two years ago after graduating from Towson State University with a degree in finance and working for Maryland National Bank as a trainer.

"She'd like to have kept it going," says Mr. Reichlin, watching his daughter scale a nearby shelf to inventory some parts. "And, she's capable of keeping it going. [The business] is just not there any more."

But Ms. McDonold says she and her father have been so busy, they haven't had time to think about what they are losing.

"I think most of this will hit later," she says. "It's not something you want to do. You don't plan on closing a business. That's not your goal when you start."

DMost of all, Mr. Reichlin says, he'll miss helping people with their problems.

ven in these last days, amid the scurry and bustle of preparing for the auction, Mr. Reichlin takes the time to help a longtime customer replace a broken part.

"Have you got the model number?" he asks, examining the frayed starter cord, purportedly from a Massey Ferguson snowmobile.

"No, but I do know it's one of those smaller ones," the customer replies thoughtfully. "It's not one of those great big ones."

"People come in here with their problems, and I enjoy that," says Mr. Reichlin with a touch of sadness in his voice. "They come in when their engine has broken down, and we find the part to fix it or an entire engine, whatever it takes.

"I'm sure going to miss that."

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