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Local News

June 2, 2014

Lights out for Stoneburner-Verret longtime Port Arthur electric business

PORT ARTHUR — The year was 1913 —  a time when Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated president, the federal income tax was established, the first prize was inserted into a box of Cracker Jacks, and Charlie Chaplin began his film career.

Port Arthur was still in its infancy, barely 15 years had passed since Arthur Stilwell founded the city by the sea in 1898.

It was also the first year a Port Arthur electric company that would grow to have one of the largest showrooms in Texas opened its doors along Procter Street.  

Now, 101 years later, Stoneburner-Verret Electric Co. is preparing to close those doors, barely a year after celebrating its golden anniversary.

“It will be a sad day to have to say good-bye, bittersweet, a lot tears, there have been some tears already,” owner Steve Verret said.

In 1913 Frank Stoneburner first opened what was then a combination electric company and radio station — the first wireless music aired in Port Arthur.

As the need for electrical supplies grew in the upstart industrial community, that end of the business took centerstage and the radio was phased out.

In 1950 the Verret family, Joseph A. Verret Sr., known as Papa Jack, and his son Joseph A. Verret Jr., known as Jack, purchased the business from the Storneburner family and changed the name to Stoneburner-Verret Electric Co. Ltd.

The new owners — both electricians, and employees of Stoneburner — built upon the principals that had established the business as one of the city’s leading retailers, servicing commercial, industrial and residential clients throughout Southeast Texas.

Longtime employee Tommy Girolamo, 73, well remembers the Verret’s strong work ethic and commitment to customers.

Jack Verret had just purchased a brand new truck. On that day, the pickup’s bed was loaded with a large spool of wire to be taken to Evadale.

“I hit the breaks, it goes through the window and crushed me against the wheel,” Girolamo recalled.

The mishap occurred just blocks from the office, a short enough distance for Jack Verret to very quickly arrive to inspect the damage.

“He took one look and said, ‘What the hell happened? I thought you were in Evadale.’ He didn’t even ask me how I was, just told me to get to Evadale,” Girolamo said.

Butch Hass, 64, remembers when he was hired and simultaneously made company history.

Like many young men in 1973, Hass sported long hair — a style that Jack Verret not only abhorred, but swore that no one who worked for him would have.

Steve Verret recalled seeing the long-haired Haas for the first time.

“I thought ‘what the hell is a hippie doing here,’” Verret said.

He soon learned that Haas was not only a hippie, but was an employee of the family business — hired because of his father’s patriotism.

“He got the job because he was military,” Verret said.

When other companies might have trouble keeping employees, Stoneburner-Verret did not.

Most who were lucky enough to get hired on made a career of the business.

“I came from the oilfield and did not know anything about  this. I did not know you could change a socket in a lamp; I would just throw the lamp away,” Cecile Dozier, office manager for 53 years, said. “Without a doubt this is the best place I ever worked.”

The employees weren’t the only ones to stick around. The Verret’s didn’t believe in throwing much away— after all, most anything could be repurposed — recycled again for a different use.

“We have 100 years worth of inventory. We never threw anything away,” Steve Verret said. “My father and grandfather were raised in the Depression era. Everything was recyclable; everything had a value to it.”

Eleven years after Steve Verret’s grandfather died in 1969, the business was sold once-again — but this time kept in the family.

“I bought the business in 1980, and worked alongside Dad,” he said.

Last year, just a month after the business celebrated its 100-year anniversary, Jack Verret died.

“This business was all my father knew. When Mom died 12 years ago, he was here at 5:30 every morning. He would work 12-hour days, Monday through Friday, 52 weeks out of the year every year,” Steve Verret recalled.

In 2011, Steve Verret was diagnosed with cancer. At that time he made the decision to merge the electrical division of Stoneburner Verret Electric Co. with Newtron Electrical Services — a company he not only was familiar with, but liked and trusted to maintain the Verret reputation of quality work at fair prices.

Verret plans to continue with Newtron as the company’s business development coordinator, and will continue to serve all his existing Stoneburner-Verret customers, he said.

In the meantime, he’s at the old business every day, visiting with customers and enjoying the camaraderie  of employees who have become family over the years.

Bill Lively, 64, of Woodville, is among those former employees who have found their way back to Port Arthur to visit before the store officially closes.

“I worked here 38 years, and knew the customers well. I would have worked here longer, but I wore out,” Lively said.

What hasn’t worn out is the company’s slogan — one that he will always remember: “We can fix everything but a broken heart and we are working on that.”

E-mail: skoonce@panews.cocm

Twitter: skooncePANews

 

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