Service, despite smoke and fire
HUMBOLDT — Longtime Humboldt business owner Russ Seiler spent the majority of 2016 rebuilding after a fire plagued his family-operated appliance store.
The building caught fire May 17, 2016.
Seiler, who serves as a volunteer firefighter, left his store in downtown Humboldt at about 6:15 p.m. that night to attend a meeting at the fire station, one mile away. Not more than 15 minutes later, the pager went off.
The call came across at about 6:30 p.m. announcing a structure fire located at 410 Sumner Ave.
“I thought, that’s my store,” Seiler recalled.
Seiler dashed from the fire station in his pickup truck as other volunteer firefighters followed him back to the business.
Bode and Livermore volunteer fire departments also responded.
“I came down here, unlocked the front door and shut the gas off to the building,” Seiler said.
After that all Seiler could do was look on as smoke filled the building that has been home to his business since 1976.
“I stood back because I was too emotionally involved,” Seiler said.
Firefighters put the fire out and boarded up the building. The cause of the fire was later determined to be electrical.
Damage to the store was significant, according to Seiler.
“It pretty much wrecked everything,” he said. “There was a lot of smoke and heat damage throughout the building.”
Antique appliances and collectible advertising pieces were lost. A vintage Maytag neon sign was one particular item Seiler treasured. It was also destroyed.
“That was probably one of the biggest things,” he said. “The only thing left was the four walls and the floor.”
Including structural and content damages, more than $500,000 was estimated to have been lost.
The next day Seiler, along with store employees Travis Grebner and Deb Ruberg, gathered in a machine shed located on the south side of the business. The shop, owned by Seiler, is separate from the store.
Seiler determined the best course of action was to continue to focus on providing service.
“We concentrated on what we could control rather than worrying about the negative,” he said.
About two weeks later, Seiler attended a relative’s high school graduation party.
There he met with an insurance agent.
“My brother had his insurance agent talk to me,” Seiler said. “The insurance agent said, ‘it’s a long process so just focus on your work and if you do that you will be fine,’ and that’s kind of what I did.”
For the next eight months, Seiler conducted his business in his machine shed.
“Everyone was hoping we were staying in business and we planned on it,” he said. “That’s one reason I like Humboldt. When something happens, people are there to help you out.”
Local businesses did what they could to help too.
“Nick Johnson and his guys from AP Air made me a sign to let people know we were doing business in the machine shed,” Seiler said.
Seiler’s brother, Dick Seiler, came over from Pocahontas to lend a hand.
Dick Seiler owns the Seiler Appliance store in Pocahontas.
Fellow firefighter, Jim Gronbach, who serves as fire chief, also stood by Seiler. The two attended Humboldt High School together in the 1970s and have both served on Humboldt’s fire department for more than 30 years.
Gronbach’s construction company was hired to remodel the store.
“Jim was a big help to me,” Seiler said. “I can’t say enough about what Jim and his guys did. He wanted to do everything he could to get me up and running again.”
During the remodel, the roof was completely replaced and the interior was gutted, Seiler said.
In January of 2017, Seiler was able to reopen the store.
More than a year since the fire, Seiler is still working to put the finishing touches on the remodeling efforts.
“We just painted the building,” he said. “It’s mainly outside stuff. Getting signs put up and fixing the parking lot. Maybe do something with the canopy.”
Seiler has been working with appliances since he was in eighth grade in the early 1970s.
“I always liked working with my hands and figuring out how something worked,” Seiler said.
He often came in after school and worked on the weekends.
His parents, John Seiler and Laura Seiler, owned the business at that time.
They moved to Humboldt together in the 1960s after John Seiler was discharged from the United States Army.
In 1965, the couple bought out Jerry Vandenberg and established Seiler Appliance and Service in Humboldt.
“I think he met Jerry at a repair store and Jerry always talked about what a great town Humboldt was and how he wanted him to work for him,” Russ Seiler said.
At that time the business was located at 619 Sumner Ave.
Russ Seiler learned how to run a business from his father, he said.
John Seiler taught Russ Seiler to learn from his mistakes and to always respect the customer, according to Russ Seiler.
“Working for Dad, he wanted everything done right,” Russ Seiler said. “He knew I was young and learning, but he wanted me to learn from my mistakes and try not to repeat them.”
Seiler sells refrigerators, washers, dryers and microwaves. The company also delivers and installs the appliances.
In-home service is an important aspect of the job, Russ Seiler said.
“Service after the sale is huge in today’s world,” he said.
John Seiler taught his son the importance of that service.
“Be careful and be respectful when you are in someone’s home,” Russ Seiler said. “Clean up after yourself.”
In 1976, the store was moved to its current location. Russ Seiler purchased the business from his parents in the 1990s.
Russ Seiler is married to Mary Seiler. They have one son, Dave Seiler, who will be a senior at Humboldt High School next school year.
“He wants to go into the family business, too,” Russ Seiler said.
Throughout the rebuilding process, Russ Seiler just wanted to continue the service his family has provided all these years, he said.
“We didn’t really lose too much of a beat after the fire,” he said. “We kept rolling. We kept at it. Looking back at it, we just focused on staying in business and getting our work done.”