Staff Photo: Karen J. Rohr ---- Jenann and Ray Garner stand on the showroom floor of their family business, the Trading Center, a Conyers appliance store which sold exclusively General Electric products. The business closed its doors on Saturday.
CONYERS -- On Saturday, Ray Garner closed the doors of his 50-year-old Conyers appliance store, the Trading Center, but not for lack of business. Tuesday morning, the phone was ringing off the hook, as Garner helped a customer in the store select a few appliances for purchase.
"I wasn't ready to leave. I wanted to stay three or five more years, but Wendy's offered me a price that I couldn't turn down," said Garner. "I'm sad about it. I really wasn't ready to go."
Garner sold his property and building at 1554 Old McDonough Highway to the owner of the Wendy's restaurant on Highway 138, who plans to build a Panera Bread restaurant at the site. Garner said he will continue to service General Electric and Highpoint products from a home-based business but he won't be selling appliances anymore.
"We have to turn down service calls now, we just can't do it all," said Garner.
For Garner, the ending of the Trading Center store is the closing of a chapter in the lives of himself and his wife, Jenann Garner. Five decades ago, Mr. Garner graduated high school, and began work as a delivery person for the Trading Center, which had just opened in 1963.
Robert McDonald, Jenann Garner's father, owned the business, located then at 910 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers where the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts now operates.
The only one of its kind in Conyers at the time, the Trading Center sold "a little bit of everything," said Mrs. Garner.
Customers could choose from kitchen sinks, hardware, cooking utensils, toasters, coffee makers, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, ovens, dryers, televisions, water heaters, and even police scanners and stereos.
Mr. Garner earned a degree in electronics, preparing him well for work at the shop, and eventually he purchased the business from his father-in-law.
"He not only sold the appliances but also delivered and installed and repaired them," said Mrs. Garner.
Though Rockdale had only about 16,000 residents when the business opened, the population increased each year, said Mrs. Garner. She said her husband's graduating class from Rockdale County High School in 1963 had 45 students, and hers, two years later, had 200.
"We were undergoing a huge explosion in growth," said Mrs. Garner, who married Mr. Garner in 1967.
In the late 1970s, the business moved to a location on Ga. Highway 138 near the TJ Maxx, and the store began to sell microwaves.
"GE sponsored cooking classes at the store because people didn't know how to cook with microwaves," said Mrs. Garner.
As their business thrived, the Garners raised a family, son Chuck Garner, who is now a teacher at the Rockdale County Magnet School for Science and Technology, and daughter Ginger Garner.
In 1982, the business took up residence on Old McDonough Highway.
Mr. Garner said some of the more enjoyable moments of running the Trading Center involved hiring high school students for the summer just before they went off to college.
"We always remembered the good times and we tried to make it fun, not just all work," said Garner.
Garner said he also served generations of customers, often selling appliances to the grandchildren of his original customers. His ability to meet any price that a big box store could offer coupled with his personal customer service and community connections allowed the Trading Center to continue, despite the competition.
"That's the only thing that kept us in business -- word of mouth," said Mr. Garner.
Mrs. Garner said the Trading Center's success is due in no small part to her husband's personality.
"He's well liked, upstanding, and one of those rare kind of guys," she said.
Mrs. Garner said shedding the responsibility of running a small business will be a welcome change, but that she's glad her husband will continue to service appliances.
"I think he would just be lost if he went from 100 percent to nothing, so this is a good transition," she said.