By THE HERALD-WHIG STAFF
Citing a steady decline in business over the past several years, Geo. Keller & Sons Co. announced Friday that the business will close within the next month.
"It is sad to make the announcement of the company's closing after over 134 years," said Kris Keller, a spokeman for the Quincy company. "The four generations of Kellers and the many employees of the company have made a permanent mark in the history of Quincy. We would like to thank all of the customers and employees of the company who have made it possible for our family to be in business in the Quincy area for so many years."
Keller & Sons, at 909 Maine, sells wholesale and retail lawn and garden products, including branded seeds.
"It's a very sad day, but we are thankful to the community, our customers and our associates," Keller said. "It wasn't how we wanted it to end, but it could not be helped with the continuing challenges of today's economy."
Keller said the decision to close was one that has been discussed for some time. The store currently employs 21.
"It's the end of an era, a big piece of (local) history," she said.
Dave Rakers worked at Keller & Sons for about 25 years. When he started in in the late 1980s the business had between 30-35 employees, he said.
"Keller & Sons was a great Quincy institution, and the Kellers were a great family to work for," Rakers said. "They wouldn't ask you to do anything they wouldn't do themselves."
The company was founded in 1880 when George Keller, a wagon maker and blacksmith, and J.P. Wenzel, who built farm wagons, formed a partnership to sell farm machinery. As a convenience to farmers, they sold timothy and clover seed.
By 1882, they needed more space and built a 21/2 story frame building on the corner of Ninth and Maine. Keller bought out his partner in January 1893 for $4,000, and each of his sons -- Arthur, Oscar, Ralph and Roy -- eventually became a partner in the business.
"The City Market was at Ninth and Hampshire, and farmers came here to barter and trade. If you look back, all the implement companies were around the City Market," said the late Art Keller Jr., a great-grandson of the founder, in an October 2005 story about the 125th anniversary of the business. "The old Farmers Home Hotel was behind us, and travel was slow in the day, so farmers would stay there and leave their horses in the stable (now used as a repair shop)."
As machinery got larger, space became an issue. George Keller sold the corner property to the Shell Oil Company in 1927 to use as a filling station, then hired architect George Behrensmeyer to design a two-story L-shaped brick building around the corner site. The new structure gave more display space for machinery and parts, and a garden seed department was added.
The filling station was eventually replaced by a liquor store and a real estate business before Keller's regained ownership in 1997.
From the 1930s to the farm boom years of the early 1970s, the company processed train car loads of seed. Up to 5 million pounds of farm seeds passed through the plant each year, not including seed corn or grains, with the label "processed by Keller's" a selling point.
In 2006, the company was named the Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce Agri-business Committee's Agri-business of the Year.