Maybe watching the paint dry doesn’t have much glamour. But it is absolutely remarkable to build and grow a local business over four generations – all under the single management of the original family that founded it.
For Cullman’s OF Richter and Sons, those generations add up to 75 years, a landmark anniversary the longtime local institution recently marked at a client appreciation reception earlier this spring. That’s a long time by the standards of Kuhlman’s relative youth after the Civil War: For perspective, it’s half the size of the city, which was founded in 1873, or even existed in the first place.
Members of the Richter family still run the store to this day. They’re under no illusions about the scope of the paint shop’s role in the grand scheme of things (“We sell paint. That’s the story,” co-owner Johnny Richter deadpans) — but they’re fairly modest across the Generations of work ethic, and a commitment to community have kept the Richters alive for 75 years.
Founded in the post-World War II homecoming period, the store opened in 1947 just a short walk from its second (and current) location on First Street SE. OF (Otto Frank) was founded by one of five Richter brothers – four of whom served in the war.
More Richters will be born in the next few years, and maintaining a labyrinth of family relationships these days requires some back-and-forth fact-checking, even among some of today’s descendants. It’s important to note, though, that OF was the first native-born member of a large German family born in Kuhlmann, who had six children – Evelyn, Arthur, Frank, Hubert, Clarence And Roy – their own for years, who will alternate with their kids to keep the business going and growing.
When the Richter brothers returned home after World War II, “no one had a job,” explains OF’s granddaughter Maria Richter Schultz. “So Grandpa took a government loan and built his first store on Second Avenue. Or built this store—he’s been painting houses since he was in his teens or early 20s—that’s what all of them work on Place. That was the beginning of the Richter and Son.”
The store held its Second Avenue location until 1972, when growth spurted the family to relocate to their permanent home on First Street ever since. Thankfully, the family didn’t have to build a new store from scratch: it just repurposed its new location (the former Kalman Bowling Center site) to handle the retail and service aspects of paint and flooring sales and installation.
“I think there was a cotton gin on this block, built in the 1950s,” recalls Johnny. “This area here [at the store site] When they came to gin, everyone brought their mules. People know it’s where everyone parks their carriages. “
Stores no longer send painters these days; it keeps employees busy with the day-to-day business of running a retail store. But in the early days, OF and FAMILY straddled the retail and contracting side of everything paint-related, and then – as it is now – keeping staff well-staffed was an ongoing challenge.
“Every Monday morning, Hubert — OR’s son — would go and get people out of jail so they could go back to work,” recalls Johnny with a laugh. “A lot of them were veterans, and some of them tended to drink alcohol to process what they saw. We might have other ways to deal with things like PTSD these days, but that was when many veterans could The methods used. They may be drunk, but they’re not doing bad things, usually not. They need work – and we need them to work.”
“Plus,” added Johnny’s brother Tim Richter, “he’ll do the same to people who aren’t drunk. That’s how communities come together. Got a problem? Need a job? Hubert will let You’re out of jail.”
Although OF Richter and Sons celebrates its 100th anniversary in the near future, and the business of the family business appears to be safe, fewer and fewer Richter people are doing things in the store today, Reflect on the signs of the changing times of today, Johnny said.
“Most of our generational families don’t work here,” he explained. “They did it in their teens…then they realised there was an easier way to make a living – and it was more profitable.”
“We used to have a fifth generation [working here]but they kept going for the most part,” Tim added.
According to Johnny’s estimates, “at least 15 family values” of Richters, whether born or married, have contributed in some form or way over the years to the operations of the Richters – not to mention Said all the outside staff who came here have gone too. Still, even with more outside employees and fewer Richters running the store’s day-to-day operations, there’s an unspoken work ethic among the store’s 22 people. One passed down from generation to generation to keep everything going according to plan.
“It’s worth noting that we opened really early,” Tim said. “We’re 6:30 a.m. – 6:30 a.m., ‘until’ every day.”
That’s what Tim says, the store focuses on catering to early risers. Workers and DIYers who need to get their act together before the day gets longer. But it could be a good sign that OF Richter has left a little first-generation elbow grease to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have inherited and maintained his family business back home. It’s already a household name for any Kuhlman local who’s considering their next coat of new paint.