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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Local business legend Harry Stephens gone at age 82

 

Last updated 4/29/2024 at 10:17am

Harry and Margie Stephens posed in their nostalgia-filled office at Harry's Appliances in downtown Orange in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the business. Harry died this weekend at the age of 82 after owning and operating his store for 61 years. He touted American-made goods, excellent service, and devotion to local businesses.

The Elvis and Marilyn sculptures are still standing in the storefront window on Tenth Street at Main in downtown Orange. Maybe if you look closely, they are shedding tears, too, like many real people across Orange County.

Local business icon Harry Stephens, who owned Harry's Appliances for 61 years died on Sunday at the age of 82. He was the epitome of a small-town business owner who offered old-fashioned personal service and advocated for supporting all local businesses.

Roy Dunn, owner of the Record Newspapers, remembered that when he started his first newspaper, the Opportunity Valley News back in the late 1960s, Harry bought an ad in his first edition. Harry continued his support of local news media after Dunn bought the Record nearly 35 years ago and has continued.

Stephens also supported the locally-owned KOGT radio station with advertising.

Stephens offered the kind of service that has become almost extinct. If you bought it from him, he delivered, installed, and took away the old appliance. He also fixed what he sold. And his goods were always only made in the U.S.A.

Through the years with the advent of chain big box stores offering cheaper appliance prices, Harry's customers learned that wasn't always the most thrifty way to buy. Big box stores charge for delivery and installation, plus it is sometimes hard to dispose of old appliances, especially refrigerators. Harry's service often made the end price look good.

As the years went by, Harry and his employees became one of the few places that could, and would, repair appliances. But only if you bought from the store. He kept old file cabinets and file boxes of records showing his sales from 61 years. If you needed a repair, even if the appliance was in your house before you bought the house, he would check his files to see if you qualified for his home service.

His family said the store would be closed this week.

Harry Stephens was born in Orange County and finished only the eighth grade. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17 and married young. He was serving in the military when his first child was born.

When he got out of the Marines, he moved back to Orange. Dunn recalls Stephens got a job with Verrett Appliances and learned the business. When Verrett retired Harry opened his own shop, which was at the same corner on Tenth Street where it still stands today.

"Harry was a big advocate for downtown Orange and supporting local businesses," Dunn said.

The shop once moved to a new storefront on Green Avenue nearby and that's where Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe joined his family. Twenty-three years ago, Stephens purchased a life-size color sculpture of Elvis to put in his front window. Elvis was soon joined by a similar Marilyn, posing in the classic scene with the breeze lifting her white skirt.

When Stephens decided to move back to his old site, the two pop icons came with him.

As a teenager in the 1950s, Stephens took in all the popular culture and remained a fan of the era. Elvis and Marilyn weren't the only items from the era he collected.

Dunn recalls Stephens liking the James Dean look and even in the old days, wearing his sleeves rolled up with a pack of cigarettes in the sleeves.

And you can bet you can find some James Dean memorabilia in the store.

Harry and Margie married in 1992, when Harry was 50. Margie worked side-by-side with him in the store and was with him on adventures. The two complimented each other and shared their love of collecting nostalgia.

A step into Harry's Appliances not only showed you the latest in appliances, but could take you back in time. They had all kinds of items from Coca Cola collectibles to movie and music stars.

Stephens also through the years liked to restore old cars and ride motorcycles.

He was dedicated to American appliances. He would drop a brand if a foreign manufacturer bought name of a company that had started in the U.S. His philosophy was the best appliances are made in this country.

Years ago, he sold television sets, but he quit when the old U.S. brands like Zenith and RCA sold out. Plus, he would say, televisions became disposable, not fixable.

Hurricane Ike in 2008 wiped out Harry and Margie. Their home in Bridge City and the store in Orange flooded during the storm's surge. Even with their home damaged, they set a priority on opening the store back up. People needed to replace all the appliances they lost and the couple was ready to serve.

They lived in a trailer on their house property during the time of storm repairs. During the first cold front that year, Stephens complained that he didn't have any long pants. When they evacuated before Ike, he packed only shorts.

He could joke about it with his sense of humor that he shared with friends and family.

Funeral services for Stephens will be at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Claybar Funeral Home in Orange. Visitation will begin at the funeral home at noon and burial will follow at Hillcrest Cemetery. See his obituary in this paper for more information about survivors.

 

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