Business

Fireplace & Home Center Sold After 35 Years

July 1, 2014, 2:33 PM HST
* Updated July 2, 11:58 AM
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The Fireplace & Home Center is now in its 35th year in downtown Hilo, but only on its second owner.

Founder Jeffrey Mermel sold the business in April to Cary and Susan Freeman, a couple from Alaska with experience in the business.

Cary is a certified chimney sweep and master hearth professional, qualifying him to work on all kinds of stoves and fireplaces. So now installations, maintenance and repairs, once contracted out, will all be done by in-house staff, improving customer service and quality, he said.

The Freemans have also remodeled the store’s showroom, featuring a variety of wood-burning, gas-fired and electric fireplaces and stoves from major manufacturers such as Jotul and Hearthstone. They’ve also revamped the store’s web site.

A part of the business the Freemans won’t change is the staff. Until pulling up their roots completely in Alaska, they’ll need to be traveling back and forth to Hawaii on occasion and needed a solid core of experienced employees.

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“We pursued (the business) because of the staff,” he said. “It kind of ran itself … a real breath of fresh air.”

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Two people in sales and a technician currently staff the store; the back shop is likely to expand with another employee or two in the new maintenance and installation department, Freeman said.

Both Freemans are eyeing Hawaii for retirement. But while Cary, 50, is winding down a career as a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, and Susan, 44, works in the Fairbanks schools, they’re not about to sit back and relax any time soon.

With one son in the Marine Corps and two teens still at home, “We’re busy people,” Susan said. “But it works for us.” They both expect to be in Hawaii full-time within two years.

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Mermel, who announced his retirement, said he took his time selling the business because he wanted assurance that the buyers would take care of the many customers he’s served over the years.

“That was really the main criteria, who’s going to take care of the customers, “ Mermel said. “We have generations, the children of customers, coming back.

“Luckily, Cary and Susan both have experience in the industry. I know the customers will be taken care of.”

The Fireplace & Home Center also sells saunas and barbecues, including the popular Big Green Egg and accessories; outdoor heaters and electric wall heaters are being added to the store’s line.

The Freemans invite customers old and new to come in to meet them and their staff and see the newly redesigned showroom.

Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-4, at 256 Kamehameha Ave. Call 961-5646.

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