Canby’s History

By Linda Ruminer

Archivist-Historian

Tulare Historical Museum

Three generations of Canby’s have served Tulare and they attribute their ability to work together to Roland Canby.  Norman Canby, Roland’s brother, originally started the business as a plumbing, heating and sheet metal operation in 1924.  Roland worked for the business while he was in high school and gradually bought into the company after he graduated in 1926.  By 1936, he owned half of the operations.

The former Lena Mae Tuggle met Roland - a big strong fellow and a star football player-while they were in in high school and they married May 8, 1928.  (Lena’s brother, Al Tuggle, became known as the mayor of Tuggleville).

During the war years when so many boys were away, Lena worked long hours at the business and willingly helped out when extra work was to be done. One of her tasks was to go out into customers’ homes and show them how to operate their newly purchased appliances.  

In the 1930’s during the Depression, things other than cash were traded for services.  Items like chickens, cows, goats, eggs, groceries and even cars were used to pay for services.  Roland was a “wheeler-dealer” and knew many creative ways to barter with friends and neighbors. 

In the mid 30’s, appliances were added to the business operation.  Televisions were added in 1949, when 50 – 75 foot antennas were required to pull reception from the Los Angeles area. 

The business’ first location was downtown on No. “K” Street and near King Ave.   It moved several times, operating in what is now Tower Square, then at 122 No. J Street, and finally at 140 So. J Street, before moving to its current location at 1434 East Tulare Avenue in 1944.. 

Before Canby’s purchased the Tulare Avenue building in 1938, the building had hosted a big dance hall that was used to bootleg booze out of, according to Roland’s sons, Delbert and Stan Canby.

In June 1946, Roland sold his house on Canby Street and bought out his brother’s half of the business, becoming the sole owner. The family then moved into an apartment over the top of the store.

A near-tragedy struck five months later in November and Roland Canby clad only in his shorts, found himself standing in the street watching the dream go up in flames.  The fire damage was severe and his newly completed store, with the family’s second-story apartment, had to be razed.  To make matters worse, the Canby Plumbing Co. was in the midst of a 60-unit housing contract. 

Canby’s sentiments were that he and his family were lucky to have escaped alive, and he was far from being licked. 

With the aid of some of his builder friends, Canby erected a temporary showroom next to the burned-out unit.  Ten days later he was back in business.  Suppliers, too, gave him a break, with enough material to complete the housing contract.

A bit sadly he reconciled himself to enlarging the makeshift showroom.  Then he conceived the idea of selling while building.  He couldn’t be certain that customers would come to a showroom while workers labored on the roof, but he decided to give the scheme a try.  It worked.

In 1948 the debris of the razed store was cleared, and ironwork for the new unit stood bleak against the summer sky.  Slowly the building took form and, late in the year, the 30’ x 90’ foot front showroom was completed. 

Delbert worked for his dad after high school, later marrying Wilma and having two boys, Bruce and Doug.   Wilma was the office manager and also worked with co-op students Tulare Union High School would send   Canby’s.

Doug remembers when his grandpa, Roland, used to come and pick the boys up on Saturday mornings.  He always had some work for them to do…straightening bent nails, sweeping up - even before they were 10 years old. 

Stan went to College of the Sequoias and continued working in the business.  He married his wife Billie, and they had 3 sons; Stanley, Jr., Steve and Stuart.   Billie assisted in the business with collections. 

Sue (Mary Etta) Canby, Delbert and Stan’s younger sister, also assisted in the business. She worked in the office starting when she was 16, answering the telephone, bookkeeping, letter writing and making out pay checks. 

Wayne Engleman was a long-time employee and was first hired by Roland Canby in 1946.  Wayne managed the plumbing sales and service and oversaw the accounting for the contracting business for many years. He was still working at Canby’s in the 1980’s when he suddenly died.     

In 1972, Delbert and Stan bought the business from their dad, Roland and in 1996, Bruce, Steve and Doug bought the business from Delbert and Stan.

In 2006, the business was subdivided to adapt to ever-changing times.  Bruce, like his dad, concentrates on   the retail appliance store and owns what is now called Canby’s Brand Source Appliances which is still located at 1434 E. Tulare Avenue.  Bruce’s wife Sheila, answers the telephone and is the office manager.  Their son, Chris works part-time in the store. 

Doug and Steve own Canby’s Air Conditioning & Heating Service located at 160 N. Lane.  Doug runs the air-conditioning service department, and cousin Steve manages the air-conditioning sales and installation.