- Linda Ruminer
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 graduating in 1926. By 1936, he owned half of the operations.
The former Lena Mae Tuggle met Roland - a big muscular fellow and a star football player while they were in high school and 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 with extra work. One of her tasks was to go out into customers’ homes and show them how to operate their newly purchased appliances.
In the 1930s, during the Depression, people traded things other than cash for services. They used chickens, cows, goats, eggs, groceries, and even cars to pay for services. Roland was a “wheeler-dealer” and knew many creative ways to barter with friends and neighbors.
In the mid-’30s, they added appliances to the business operation and added televisions in 1949, when 50 – 75-foot antennas were required to pull reception from the Los Angeles area.
The business’s first location was downtown on no. K Street 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 used to bootleg alcohol, 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 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 sure 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, they cleared the razed store's debris, and ironwork for the new unit stood bleak against the summer sky. Slowly the building took form, and, late in the year, he completed the 30’ x 90’ foot front showroom.
After high school, Delbert worked for his dad, later marrying Wilma and having two boys, Bruce and Doug. Wilma was the office manager and worked with co-op students from Tulare Union High School sent to 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 ten years old.
Stan went to the College of the Sequoias and continued working in the business. He married his wife Billie, and they had three 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 writing paychecks.
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 1980s when he suddenly died.
In 1972, Delbert and Stan bought the business from their dad, Roland, and in 1996, Bruce, Steve, and Doug purchased the company from Delbert and Stan.
In 2006, they subdivided the business to adapt to ever-changing times. Like his dad, Bruce concentrates on the retail appliance store and owns what is now called Canby’s Brand Source Appliances, 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.