CLEARFIELD – If you’ve studied reading, writing and ‘rithmatic over the past 125 years, chances are you’ve used products from one of the oldest businesses in the Clearfield area.
According to information provided by the company, on June 21, 1894, 20-year-old Charles T. Kurtz opened a small stationery store and print shop in a rented storefront on Third Street in Clearfield.
Despite its humble beginnings, the young entrepreneur set the foundation for Kurtz Bros., which would provide educational materials for schools.
At the time, Kurtz had no idea his small, storefront business would survive devastating floods, fires, recessions, the Great Depression, the adverse effects of wars (including World War II), the dot.com era, which includes Amazon Business, Internet bidding against national conglomerates such as Staples, Office Depot, Quill, Wal-Mart, and many more.
As the business grew, Kurtz built the first Kurtz Bros. store building on Second Street in 1901, and the first truck for delivery of school materials was purchased in 1905.
By 1911, the first building was constructed on Reed Street, the present site of the Kurtz Bros’. main office in Clearfield.
Throughout the years, Kurtz Bros. expanded into commercial printing, paper converting and advertising specialties.
Kurtz’s three sons, Ted, Bob and Jack, joined the company management team during the 1920’s. In 1936 the plant employees voted to become unionized, and the union is active to this day.
At the start of the 1950’s, Kurtz Bros. was one of the first firms in the area to use IBM computers for processing business data.
In 1961, Jack Kurtz became president and Ted Kurtz was elected chairman of the board. Expansion of the company continued in the 1960’s when a warehouse building was purchased at the edge of town and all school supply storage and shipping was moved to the new site.
Three subsequent additions were made to the warehouse building in the 60’s, 70’s and 90’s to add increased inventory, storage and shipping space necessitated by the growing business.
In September of 1999, all remaining Kurtz family members sold their shares of ownership to the employees, and Kurtz Bros. became an employee-owned company.
Robert M. Kurtz Jr. continued on as an employee, holding the titles of president, chief executive officer and chairman for many years. He retired from active service at the end of 2014, but still holds the title of “chairman emeritus.”
Current President, CEO and Chairman, Monty E. Kunes strives to see that the company honors the legacy of the founding Kurtz family by upholding the original business philosophy that has allowed it to be successful through many decades.
In 2013, Kurtz Bros. expanded further south by acquiring the trade name and business operations of Bender-Burkot East Coast School Supply in New Bern, N.C.
Bender-Burkot continues to operate as a division serving North Carolina and the surrounding states. Then in 2016, Kurtz Bros. expanded its sales reach further into the Midwest by acquiring the John R. Green Co. in Covington, Ky.
This division also continues to operate under the original name that had established a great reputation with customers in Ohio, Kentucky and surrounding states.
But through the tenacity and resilience of employees and management, Kurtz Bros. has continued to overcome the challenges that many other companies didn’t survive.
The company recently celebrated its 125th year with parties at both the Reed Street and Goldenrod locations. According to President/CEO Monty Kunes, the company will continue providing school supplies for many years to come.
“The definition of ‘survivor’ is a person or thing that continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship or setbacks,” Kunes said. “Kurtz Bros. remains a ‘survivor’ in every sense of the word.”
He said one of the big changes coming to the company is a large capital investment in a state-of-the-art HVAC system with natural gas as the heat source.
This will eliminate the plume of smoke from the company’s smokestack, which has been part of the company’s logo for so many years.
Kunes said while the company could never be considered trendy or cutting-edge, Kurtz Bros. continually implements process improvements and innovations to remain viable into the foreseeable future.