The splash of cobalt blue in Roy Matthews’ gray hair Wednesday afternoon was not a sales gimmick. It was just an accident.
“My pen exploded,” Matthews said, explaining the new wave of color behind his right ear. “I just found out and they’ve been busting me all morning. I had a pen in my ear. They’ll say, ‘Roy’s so hot to get out a pen exploded in his ear.’ ”
The longtime Scotia appliance dealer is not thermally charged. But he is getting out of the business — he expects to conclude the liquidation sale at his Mohawk Avenue store by the end of August. He’s been hanging around stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, microwave ovens and stereos since 1962.
“There are medical reasons, problems with my eyes,” said Matthews, 65. “I’m pretty tired — 50 years.”
There’s another reason. Matthews was saddened by the recent passing of longtime friend Phil Gamache of Scotia.
“I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go see the world, I’ve got to see the country,’ ” Matthews said. “I don’t even care about the world. I want to see the country and spend some time with my friends and relatives.”
Matthews began working at the former Swire’s department store as a teenager in 1962. His first jobs were sweeping floors and emptying trash. By 1964, he was driving a delivery truck.
Matthews landed a job with the General Electric Co. in 1965 while he was still in high school. By the time he graduated from Scotia-Glenville High School in 1966, he was still on the payroll at Swire’s, working part-time.
In 1979, Swire’s closed. Matthews left General Electric and opened his appliance store in the same space.
Business boomed. During the mid-1980s, Matthews opened stores in Colonie and South Glens Falls. Matthews closed the satellite locations during the early 1990s when he sold the buildings.
Business has changed during the past 30 years — more competition.
“The pie is getting smaller. You have to be more diversified today,” Matthews said. “I’ve lasted this long because I’ve had some great employees over 30 years, one of them being Janis Parks, my bookkeeper. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to succeed this long. Dick Parks has been a manager of mine for 30 years. He just retired. Ben Sledziewski was with me for over 20 years.
“It wasn’t a job, it was like a family. You can’t get that anymore. One would help the other. I cherished those moments.”
Internet shopping also presented challenges for small appliance dealers. Matthews said people see what they want to buy on the Internet and come to the store to see the merchandise in person.
“They want to pick your brains, they want you to divulge all the information you can’t get on the Internet because there’s nobody to talk to them,” Matthews said. “It’s like buying a car on the Internet — go to the dealer and talk to them. They might answer questions you didn’t even think to ask.”
Matthews remembers clients as friends.
“Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, we had a lot of fun with our customers,” he said. “We used to have Christmas parties, invite them down for cheese, crackers and wine parties. We’d use them to say thanks.”
Matthews had other holiday-themed promotions, such as Christmas tree, ham and toy giveaways.
The appliance man was also pretty good at self-promotion. His advertisements often included a cartoon character who wore long hair and glasses who carried a sign.
“I was having lunch at the J and L restaurant next-door — it’s gone now — we were sitting there and there was a guy at the bar, he was laughing and we were talking and he said, ‘I’ve got an idea for you,’ ” Matthews said. “At the bar, he sketched a cartoon of me. He said, ‘I’ve got your new image.’ He gave me this caricature taken from a ‘Doonesbury’ cartoon. He put in a shorter version with the hair and he put the glasses on me and it’s stuck ever since, since 1979. People come in and say, is that really you?”
The artist proposed an update a few years ago. It never happened.
“He said, ‘We’ll put gray hair on him, a fat belly and a limp in his walk,’ ” Matthews said, laughing.
Matthews owns the three-story building located between the small Gentle Home Health Care building and larger Scotia Cinema. There are apartments on the second and third floors, and Matthews would love to see another appliance store move in. Right now, there are no takers.
Some people wonder if he’s leaving at all.
“Everybody was saying, ‘You do a liquidation sale every year to move your inventory,’ and that’s what I was doing this year, until Phil died,” Matthews said. “Everybody tells me I’m coming back. I need some time to figure that one out. I might. You never know.”