Hommel's Close Call
How Two Heroic and Selfless Past Owners Came Together To Ensure Hommel Would Continue To Be A Lifeline For So Many On The North Fork For Decades.
I’m the controller at Kenilworth Equities Ltd. and perhaps, more importantly, I'm one of the new owners of Hommel Plumbing and Heating Supply. This is the story of how two previous Hommel owners came together to ensure the business would continue to be the North Fork's lifeline for decades to come.
Most people don’t realize that Hommel Plumbing and Heating Supply enables the presence of plumbers on the eastern half of the North Fork. Without Hommel, plumbers would face an hour-long round-trip drive to Riverhead each time they needed one of the more than 9,000 plumbing and heating supplies we carry. Plumbers tell us those long trips would be unsustainable for their businesses.
So, anyone out here who has become fond of indoor plumbing and heating in their homes might not be aware that they owe a debt of gratitude to two selfless, back-to-back former owners. The owners could have simply liquidated the business leaving half of the North Fork residents up the proverbial creek without a paddle, or in this case, without a plumber.
But, instead, each of them independently took steps to not just keep Hommel open, but to guarantee its long-term viability and stewardship, thereby clinching the survival of plumbers serving the eastern half of the North Fork and Shelter Island.
It all started two years ago when Bruno and Felice Semon, only the third owners of Hommel since it opened in 1938, put the historic building on Main and South Street in Greenport up for sale.
The Semons understood better than anybody the critical role Hommel played in the North Fork community. So, they insisted that whoever purchased the building also had to buy the plumbing supply business. This significantly reduced their chances of finding a buyer for the building.
But, Robert Morrow and his family, who had the foresight to start investing in and supporting Greenport’s downtown 20 years ago, also understood the major impact this seemingly small plumbing supply house had on the community. So, they bought both the building and the company and promised to keep the store open.
Robert Morrow is also the owner of Kenilworth Equities Ltd., a real estate development and property management firm based in Manhattan. It's the same company that developed Harvest Pointe, the 124-unit luxury condominium complex in Cutchogue.
Mr. Morrow asked me, as his controller, to begin driving out to Greenport once a week to help manage the new acquisition, cultivate it, and start getting involved in the community. Supporting the community was a priority for him and we also hoped that the community would continue to support and trust us, too, which they did at a level that exceeded all of our expectations.
So, for two years, I made the trip to Greenport and honestly, I loved every minute of it. I loved the drive, the North Fork, the business, the staff, our customers, and the impact we were having on the area. And I loved the community.
I became involved in the various local business organizations and met many wonderful people in the community. We looked for opportunities to give back, for example, by donating heating and plumbing supplies for a Greenport Habitat for Humanity house, donating a water heater to the East End Seaport Museum’s building and sponsoring their Social Summer Fridays. And for the first time in a long time, if ever, we had a booth at the Maritime Festival.
In retrospect, it became clear why Mr. Morrow started sending me out here. He was looking for someone to whom he could pass the torch, someone who could look out for Hommel long-term.
Similar to Willy Wonka, he wanted to find someone he trusted, who loved Hommel and the community, who had their heart in the right place, who would do a good job operating it, and whom he knew would keep Hommel serving the plumbers and local homeowners out here for decades to come. I turned out to be his Charlie Bucket.
In fact, in mid-2023, when Mr. Morrow and I began exploring the possibility of me becoming the new owner of Hommel, we both agreed that the highly capable Michele Falk, a work colleague at Kenilworth Equities and a longtime good friend, who was also interested in being part of Hommel’s future, would be an excellent partner.
Michele and I are honored to be the new owners of Hommel Plumbing and Heating Supply.
We love the old building and the 85-year history of the business, the friendly and capable staff, who have become like a family to us, and the people we've met in the village of Greenport and the rest of the North Fork. But it's the privilege of helping Hommel remain such an important lifeline for so many people out here on the North Fork that gives us a level of pride and satisfaction we never thought possible.
Without Bruno and Felice Semon, owners #3, insisting their business be preserved, and owners #4, Robert Morrow and family, keeping their promise and then exceeding everyone’s expectations by finding a way to ensure Hommel thrives in the decades ahead, we’d never be owners #5.
Both Michele and I are committed to continuing the Hommel tradition, restoring and preserving its rich history, and supporting our customers and our community well into the future.
Howard Silverman and Michele Falk
Owners, Hommel Plumbing and Heating Supply