Olmstead’s TV in Batavia closing after 77 years

Owner Gene Olmstead is retiring

Gene Olmstead is closing his family business, Olmstead’s TV in Batavia, after over 75 years of business.

BATAVIA – Olmstead’s TV, the oldest continuously operated business in Batavia, is closing its doors after 77 years.

Owner Gene Olmstead is retiring and has been clearing out his shop at 221 W. Wilson St. in the heart of the downtown.

Gene Olmstead is closing his family business, Olmstead’s TV in Batavia, after over 75 years of business.

“What I’ll miss is people coming in and people who truly appreciate you helping them,” Olmstead said. “Meeting and talking to people on a daily basis is enjoyable.”

Customer service has been the hallmark of the business, which was opened by Olmstead’s father, the late Lee Olmstead, in 1946.

“We delivered and hooked them up so the customer didn’t have to do anything but watch TV,” Gene Olmstead said.

Initially, Lee Olmstead sold mangles, devices used to squeeze water from wet laundry during the days of wringer washing machines.

A couple of years later Olmstead began selling TV sets and the business was known for a long time as Olmstead’s TV and Appliances.

The store sold TVs, radios, washers, dryers and refrigerators.

Originally located at 239 W. Wilson St., Lee Olmstead moved the business a few doors down to its present location sometime around 1959.

“He just loved to talk and visit with people,” Gene Olmstead said of his father, who continued working at the business until he died in 2004.

Gene Olmstead is closing his family business, Olmstead’s TV in Batavia, after over 75 years of business.

“For the longest time he carried only Motorola,” Olmstead said. “He would drive to Motorola every week to get his allocation. TV manufacturing was big in Chicago.”

In those early days, Olmstead remembers his father selling a particular Motorola table top TV with a 4-inch screen.

“It had a beautiful wood cabinet,” Olmstead said and was expensive.

“It was $349 at a time when a car cost $1,200,” Olmstead said.

Small dealers such as Olmstead’s would get the newest models first because manufacturers knew they would explain the features to their customers and attract the “early adopters” seeking the latest technology.

Gene Olmstead was a student at Batavia High School when on Nov. 22, 1963, he learned of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Olmstead remembers running across the street to his father’s store and grabbing a transistor radio, taking it back to the school so he could follow the unfolding events for the rest of the day.

By then, Gene Olmstead already was helping out at the business and later continued working there while attending junior college.

Around 1972, Olmstead’s eliminated the big appliances but had added stereo equipment along with both long-playing and 45 rpm records. Big console TVs and stereo units in heavy wooden cabinets were popular.

Later came the era of the video cassette recorder, followed by the DVD player. TV sets evolved from tube technology to LED screens.

In the days before cable or satellite, a rooftop antenna was the way TV signals were brought into the home.

“We’ve been putting up antennas since forever,” Olmstead said. “In the 1990s we were taking down antennas and putting up satellite dishes.”

In more recent years, the process has been reversed with Olmstead’s removing dishes and installing digital antennas for customers seeking to put an end to the monthly satellite bill, along with others wanting to cut the cord from cable service.

Projection TVs became all the rage in the 1990s.

“They were huge and needed a dolly to be moved,” Olmstead said. “Sometimes we had to take them apart and put them back together just to get them into a customer’s basement.”

Running a service-oriented business required much effort. Olmstead said he typically worked 60-hour weeks.

During the 1970s and into the early 1980s, Olmstead was a firefighter with the Batavia Fire Department, working shifts of 24 hours on and 48 hours off.

When serving his shift at the fire station, Olmstead would use part-time employees to run the shop.

It was always customer service that made Olmstead’s TV prosper and helped the store survive when confronted with competition from big-box retailers.

“A lot of places would have closed under the pressure, but I did not succumb,” Olmstead said.

Now 75, Olmstead is closing down the business and taking a much-deserved retirement. He plans to sell the building, which is in a high-profile downtown location.

“This is where I’ve spent the last 60 years,” he said.