Written by Phil Cerroni
by Alice Canham
In February of 1973, Ron Zimmerman of Irving had a decision to make.
“I’d been in retail since high school,” said the longtime manager of Al’s Rent to Own, 115 S. Main Street.
“I was declared ineligible for the draft – of course, this was during the Vietnam War. And I was in California, but I’d always stayed the summers with my Dad in Irving.”
His father was Al Zimmerman, who opened his first store in Irving at Grauwyler and Britain in 1967 (Al’s Sewing Center). The former Sears & Roebuck salesman later added stereos to the mix, and at one time had seven different retail outlets. Al hoped that each of his four children would take over a store.
“He had a unique situation here: he went into business and evolved it into the stores,” said the younger Zimmerman. “He worked by himself. He would buy one item, sell that one and replace it with two items.
“He was a good teacher and a great salesman.”
The original Al of Al’s Rent to Own passed away 26 years ago – but by then the decision was already made. He left his son in charge of the business in Irving. Ron Zimmerman will be celebrating his 40th anniversary at the store on February 23, 2013.
“I didn’t perceive that I was coming into this as a son; I was coming in as an employee,” said Zimmerman. “God gave me an opportunity. I had a father who was willing to participate in his children’s future.”
Zimmerman studied retail management but admits he also gained a lot of experience in the school of hard knocks. He’s rolled with the punches through the years, moving from electronics to the rental purchase business when the big box stores made it hard to compete. His floor-room is now filled with furniture for the living room, bedroom; any room – all of it available for rent while a customer purchases it over time.
Zimmerman has also invested in his relationships with customers over time. One customer is so at-home with the staff that she makes daily visits, even adopting a post at one of the sales desks.
“This is my home away from home,” Mary Capps explained.
“When I first started out, his father was running this place. I actually bought a sewing machine here for my daughter-in-law.
“But the first thing I bought for myself was a Curtis-Mathes entertainment center. I still have it, and it still works. The music part, the TV – it all still works.
“My whole family – children and grandchildren, too – we all do business here. I have never done business with anybody nicer than this man, Ron Zimmerman.”
“My priority has always been here, at my store,” said Zimmerman. “After forty years, I have seen a lot of changes to this street and to the people here.
“This building began as a five-and-ten variety store back in the 1940s. But business is about change. If you change with it, you’ll have an edge on the others. I’m always looking for ways to improve and to provide services for my customers that they might not get otherwise.
“And of course I’ve worked with the Preservation and Redevelopment Board and with the Downtown Merchants’ Association. I’m proud of participating in the community effort for the Downtown Beautification Day in 1995.
“The redevelopment of the Heritage District has brought the city and the community closer to being on the same page. There’ve been a lot of studies over the years – a lot of meetings, but not much action so far. Finally, though, I think we’re going to see some building, and I’m looking forward to it.
”This is where Irving began in 1902. We should seek to preserve it for the betterment of the community and the education of the children who will be raised here.”