Larry McAleer doesn't like being called a plumber.
"Plumber is an antiquated term. Our guys are far from plumbers; they are skilled in all areas of the industry," said McAleer, owner/manager of McAleer's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., 1008 Chestnut Ave.
McAleer's, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary in business, performs plumbing work but business is much different than when it was founded by his grandfather, Charles A. McAleer, at 1002 Chestnut Ave. in 1886.
(Mirror photo illustration by Gary M. Baranec and Tom Worthington II)
HVAC technicians Jeff Parshall (foreground) and Dave Delozier, employees of McAleer’s Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, remove an old furnace to make room for a new one for a customer on Wednesday afternoon.
Charles McAleer ran the business until the mid-1940s when his son, John, took it over and moved it to the present location. Larry, a 1973 graduate of Altoona Area High School, joined the business as an apprentice in 1975 and took over the business after his father died in 1979.
"I never had any plans to come into the business," said McAleer, who holds an associate degree in business from Penn State Behrend and is a licensed master plumber. "When Dad started to get sick, I just came in and one day turned into 35 years."
The business, first known only as McAleer's, actually pre-dated plumbing.
"In the beginning, no one had any plumbing. There was no water distribution. There was no drainage. There were no bathrooms, no fixtures," McAleer said. "Then plumbing started to develop and people wanted running water and toilets, all of the amenities we take for granted daily."
McAleer's was renamed McAleer's Plumbing and Heating in the 1940s and was incorporated in 1994 as McAleer's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning Inc.
"As natural gas came on in the 1950s, we converted many customers from coal to natural gas. The heating business started to become more prevalent in the 1950s," McAleer said. "The air conditioning side of things began to flourish for us in the 1990s."
Modern technology has had a significant impact on the family business.
"When my father did this, it was cast iron piping and lead pipes. Technology has brought us plastic water piping. We have better quality and easier to use materials. Heating and air conditioning has become very sophisticated with electronic controls to try to increase efficiency to save our natural resources," McAleer said.
Today, McAleer's focuses on serving about 10,000 customers within a 25-mile radius of Altoona. Business is split equally between commercial and residential customers.
"We rely on emergency repair work; that is our niche. When you need us fast, that is our strength," said McAleer, whose business employs 17 full-time people.
McAleer's has a solid reputation in the community, said Jim Folcarelli, president of Folcarelli Supply Co., which has done a lot of business with them over the years.
"My dad and his dad partnered in a lot of projects in the 1950s and 1960s. What Larry is doing is a lot broader than what his dad was doing. Now he does the entire gamut; he is a lot more diversified than what his dad did," Folcarelli said. "When you can survive that period of time, you are doing something right. When Larry says he is going to do something, it will get done."
Providing excellent service has been McAleer's key to success.
"The way you survive is to treat people the way you want to be treated. We tell our guys to treat people's homes and businesses like they are their own," McAleer said. "We develop friendships and business relationships that pass down from generation to generation."
Community service also is important.
"For us, community involvement is mandatory; we want to be part of the community," McAleer said. "We do it because this community has been so good to us and given our family a comfortable living. That is why we give back."
McAleer's received the Excellence in Small Business Award from the Blair County Chamber of Commerce in 2004.
Folcarelli said local businesses such as McAleer's aren't always appreciated.
"Sometimes the community doesn't appreciate what a business like that brings to the table," Folcarelli said. "When you pay taxes and pay people and give back to the community, that is a real plus."
McAleer said he is proud his business has survived over the years.
"Our claim to fame is we have 125 consecutive years of service to our community. There aren't too many people who can say that," McAleer said. "It is very humbling and we are proud to have been able to withstand all of the business climate changes to stay in business for 125 years."
McAleer said his son, Brian, who joined him in the business three years ago after graduating from Villanova University, is poised to take over the family business.
"The future is bright. We are constantly training. We have a talented staff. Brian has some bright young ideas," McAleer said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.