At age 80, Charlie Sewell still comes to work on Saturdays to make cookies.
“Chocolate chip and oatmeal,” he said, proudly. “Saturday is cookie day.”
It’s his way of offering a homey touch for the folks browsing the big showroom of Sewell Appliance Sales and Services Co. Inc., in Sandy Springs, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. His sons, Andy, 45, and Stan, 49, run the place now, but dad likes to keep his hand in. So he shows up on weekends to chat with folks and fill the customer cookie jar.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Sewell said one recent afternoon as he sat in an office off the appliance company’s huge showroom.
“People ask me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ I say, ‘Why should I retire? This is the best job I’ve ever had.’ If I get tired at work, I go home. If I get tired at home, I go to work. I talk to my friends and I bake cookies on Saturdays. I enjoy it. That’s why I’m still working.”
And Sewell knows work. He says he’s done everything for a living from building Buicks to fixing dishwashers to mixing syrup for the Coca-Cola Co.
And his business has grown along with his hometown.
“Charlie Sewell is an integral part of Sandy Springs,” Mayor Eva Galambos said. “How many of us over the years have had to call Sewell Appliance for help? ‘The oven is not working, and we’ve got guests for dinner,’ or another day it might be ‘The fridge is not working and I’m losing all my frozen foods!’. … Sewell Appliance is a Sandy Springs institution.”
Sewell grew up on a farm on Mount Vernon Highway, the eighth of nine kids. “You had to work,” he said. “I grew up on the farm working.”
In those days, there wasn’t a lot to Sandy Springs, as he recalls it. He remembers a barber shop, a hardware store, a couple of groceries and a soda shop at Mount Vernon and Roswell roads. “When I was a kid,” he said, “there was not a traffic light between Buckhead and North Carolina.”
He found work at the General Motors plant in Doraville. He even bought himself a souped-up car, he said. “I went to Florida and ran it on the beach,” he said. “After that, it wasn’t perfect, so I didn’t want it anymore.”
After a few years, he decided he’d had enough of building cars. Sewell had a friend who serviced appliances and signed on as a repairman, he said, and found he liked fixing dishwashers and refrigerators for a living. “I was mechanically inclined,” he said. “I liked to be outside and meeting new people every day. “
In 1962, he bought the business. As it grew, he sold appliances as well as fixed them. And as the suburbs north of Atlanta grew, so did his business. Soon he was selling or repairing appliances for homeowners and homebuilders spread across Sandy Springs, Buckhead, Roswell and East Cobb.
“I’d come in Monday morning and there would be 40 calls for service,” he said. “They’d keep coming all week. I never got caught up.”
His was a classic small, family business. He did service calls and his wife, Sue, ran the office. “The first employee I had was a plumber,” he said. “He helped me install all the appliances. I remember one year, before Thanksgiving, we had to install 12 refrigerators in one day.”
By the time the business reached its 25th anniversary, he had 20 employees. Sewell’s now employs 22, he said. “I’ve never had to lay anybody off, even in bad economic times.” he said proudly.
He started off selling the brands that built the U.S. suburbs – names such as General Electric, Westinghouse or Amana.
The business has changed as the community has grown richer. Sewell’s showroom still includes some of the old brands, but now it features far pricier ones with names such as Viking, Sub-Zero or Wolf. Customers can spend up to $50,000 for a French range, he said.
To help sell them, Sewell offers cooking classes.
And, of course, Charlie Sewell’s cookies.