After 60 years in appliance business, Frenchy Downey to retire May 25 on 94th birthday

Photos by Tom Rivers: Everett “Frenchy” Downey has been selling and repairing televisions and appliances for the past 60 years in Albion. He plans to retire on May 25. He is shown in the showroom that he built in the late-1960s at 13576 Ridge Rd.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 May 2024 at 4:51 pm

ALBION – Everett “Frenchy” Downey has been selling and repairing televisions, stoves, laundry machines, refrigerators and freezers for six decades in Orleans County.

He has loved the job connecting with people throughout the county, especially when he went to fix something.

Downey said in a way he felt like a doctor, reviving an ailing appliance. He acknowledges he is a child of the Great Depression, and felt giving extra life to a TV or other appliance saved his customers from buying new.

If they needed to purchase used or new, he kept a showroom with the leading brands – Magnavox, Zenith, Crosley, Speed Queen, Norge and many others.

Downey has had amazing longevity in a business that is dominated by much larger operations. But Frenchy will soon be retiring – on his 94th birthday on May 25.

Downey’s dog Herbie, a 12-year-old Shih Tzu, is a mainstay at Frenchy’s. He barks when people pull in. “He’s my buddy,” Downey said.

He hurt his back last year moving a freezer and doctors tell him to stay away from heavy lifting, or face severe consequences.

“I have loved what I’ve been doing every day,” Downey said today in the showroom at Frenchy’s at 13576 Ridge Rd. “I got to know a lot of people. I always have thought of my customers as my friends. I want to help them if I can.”

Downey has about a dozen appliances left to sell – a freezer, four electric stoves, one gas stove, and laundry machines.

Downey worked with his father on a tomato farm by their home on Ridge Road until he was 30. In 1960, the tomato processors closed their Albion plants, and the farmers “were left high and dry,” Downey said.

He then worked a year at the Ralston Purina plant on West Academy Street in Albion. He made $1.25 an hour and did every task imaginable in the plant, and even drove truck. But he never got a raise so he left.

He worked three years for the Marquart Furniture store in Albion, but the owner cut them to four days a week. Downey was married with children, and four days of work didn’t pay his bills, so in 1964 he ventured off on his own. He started Frenchy’s TV and Appliances on Bank Street, next to the police station.

At the time, Albion had parking meters, and the police wrote many tickets if Frenchy’s customers lingered a little too long. It was a big deterrent to his business, so after two years downtown he decided to build a showroom next to his house on Ridge Road.

Business immediately improved with the ample parking – and no tickets.

Frenchy’s has been a mainstay on Ridge Road. Not only his business, but a 2,000-foot grass air strip next door. Downey and his son-in-law Mike Troy have been flying planes on the airstrip for many years. For Downey, he started flying in 1968. He earned his pilot’s license and bought a 1946 Taylorcraft airplane that he still owns. He also built his own plane, as well as the hangars for the aircraft.

Frenchy Downey is shown with a 1946 Taylorcraft airplane, which he has had since 1968. Downey also built his own plane. He earned his pilot’s license in 1968 after his barbershop quartet broke up.

Downey was in a barbershop quartet, but the group split up. When it did, he had more free time and pursued a love of flying that he kept up until last year. The bad back has sidelined him from the skies.

Downey is often joined in the showroom by his dog, Herbie, a 12-year-old Shih Tzu that barks when cars pull in. Downey admits he is a little hard of hearing and the dog alerts him to customers. Herbie also is a great companion. “He’s my buddy,” Downey said.

For the first 40 years of his career in TV and appliances, Downey’s late wife Dorothy was with him, doing the dreaded bookwork that her husband despised.

After her death about 20 years ago, Frenchy has been doing all the ordering, the paperwork for warranties, the tax filings, insurance and everything else.

“The only thing I’m happy about with retiring is no more bookwork,” Downey said. “All of that paperwork isn’t up my alley.”

Downey said he kept working all of these years because he enjoyed the job, but also because it isn’t a lucrative business and he needed to keep going.

“There’s not a lot of money in it, and it’s difficult with all the costs to be in business,” he said. “All of those expenses, insurances and business costs, they bleed you death. People don’t understand what it costs to be in business. People get into it and think you’ll get rich, but you don’t.”

But Frenchy said the business has made him rich in other ways. He counts numerous friends from all over the county.