Historic Greencastle business to close

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Antrim Building & Farm Supply and its predecessors provided materials for new construction and agricultural needs since the 1880s. Owner Bob Zeger is shutting the doors, the victim of a tough economy. His sons, Brandon and Morgan, will not take over the family business.

After 40 years in the Zeger family, and a presence in Greencastle for 126 years, Antrim Building & Farm Supply Company is closing its doors. Its last official day of business was April 23, but owner Robert Zeger is holding a clearance sale May 15-18.

The times changed too much to keep the "mom and pop" store open.

Zeger, 58, acknowledged too much area competition in a business that needed a vibrant housing market. Sales were in decline for the past four years.

"It's been a struggle," he said. "If I saw an improving economy I would stick it out, but I don't."

From a high of 10 employees, Antrim finished its run with just Bill Robinson, a 57-year craftsman in the planing mill, and a part-timer on the payroll. Zeger said he lost his customer base by attrition. Many had died or moved away. Newer people in the community didn't necessarily know his business existed. The company address is 201 N. Carlisle St., though the most accessible entrance was from North Washington Street.

Antrim offered a complete line of building materials, from lumber to screws, said Zeger. When the retail store opened in 1984, additional merchandise such as lawn and garden supplies and paint products were added.

The history

The Omwake Brothers opened a grain elevator on the 3.6 acres in 1887. The name changed to Omwake and Oliver, and in 1956 George Myers and Charles Fitz renamed it Myers and Fitz. Zeger's father Herbert was an accountant at Frick in Waynesboro, but also did books for the partners. Therefore, he was the first to know when they wanted to retire. And he understood its financial health. He took an early pension from Frick and bought the Greencastle business October 1, 1973, then asked Zeger if he wanted to go to work.

At that point, Zeger had completed nearly a year at Penn State Mont Alto. But during the daily commute, the call to head into the mountains was stronger than the call to sit in a classroom. Zeger decided college wasn't for him, and went to work in a gas station. The day came when he filled his car with this belongings, intending to work at a ski resort in Colorado. Then came the offer from his dad.

"I said yes," he said. "I wasn't sure my van would make it out there any way. I thought I would save up some money. And here it is, 40 years later."

Herbert died in 2008, but remained involved in Antrim Building & Farm Supply most of his life. Zeger plans to sell the property.

The future

"Whatever happens to it, I want to see a good fit for Greencastle, something that makes Greencastle better," Zeger said.

He wasn't even sure how many buildings he had, and a quick count showed eight. Some needed to be torn down, but others were sound in structure. They had served the community as a feed mill, lumber yard, apple packing plant, warehouse, planing mill and store.

Zeger was sad that his decision to close was necessary, and he will miss the interaction with his customers, especially the older ladies.

"They were often widows, and I'd help them out at the house after I delivered softener salt, and just visit with them," he said.

One such woman was surprised to learn of the business' fate and came right over to give Zeger a hug.

He is excited for the future, though. He and his wife Lisa plan to move to Morefield, W. Va. to be closer to daughter Chessie and her husband, and their children Brady, 5, and Madelyn, 1. The couple may start a vendor business, selling upscale food from a truck at events.

The yellow paint on the buildings continues to flake, as it has for many years. Something very different will likely replace the business that served town and country needs for over a century. The charm of the past will be preserved in memories.