A lot of things have changed over the last 100 years.
But not really tractors.
So says Paul Malvese, the owner of the Riverhead-based Malvese Equipment company, which is celebrating its centennial this year.
What has changed, he explained, is how customers use tractor equipment.
“I wouldn’t say we altered our business,” Mr. Malvese said. “The equipment we always sold, we still sell. It’s just that it shifted from being [just] agricultural tractors to tractors, turf equipment and construction equipment. It evolved into the type of business we have today, multifaceted.”
While selling equipment for agriculture was a big part of the business, the company has also sold equipment to golf courses, construction companies, contractors, landscapers and municipalities, he said.
“If you’re just a sole-line distributor, you can’t survive. You have to be able to hit multiple markets,” he said. “If you’re just in the agricultural market, and all of a sudden you have a bad market, farmers are not going to buy equipment — the same with construction and other markets.
“But if you’ve got golf courses, municipalities, landscaping companies and construction companies among your clients, the probability is that somebody’s going to buy.”
While Malvese Equipment has been in Riverhead since the late 1970s, the company was actually started in Bethpage in 1908 by Paul Malvese’s grandfather, George. At the time, it was called George Malvese and Company and was more a repair shop or blacksmith’s shop, Paul Malvese said.
The current Malvese Equipment company technically started in 1912, opening its first store in Bethpage, known then as Central Park. The company remained there until about 1917, when it moved to Garden City Park. In 1959, it relocated to Hicksville, where it still has a store.
Malvese first came to Riverhead around 1979 and for four years occupied a store across from Lolly’s Hut that’s now the home of Rocco’s Pizza and Pasta. That store wasn’t any bigger than the pizza shop is now, Mr. Malvese said.
“And the reason for it was, we are a conservative organization and we wanted to make sure it was viable,” he said. “So we opened it up, we stayed there four years, we saw it was viable and we came here and bought this site.” The current site is seven acres and back in the 1950s, it was supposed to be an amusement park, though that plan never came to fruition, Mr. Malvese said.
Company officials liked the site because it gave them easy access to clients on the North and South forks, he said. What they didn’t know is that future clients would build around them.
“When we came out here, vineyards weren’t popular and we didn’t have all these golf courses either,” Mr. Malvese said.
There were a lot more farms back then too, he recalled.
The other big change since Malvese came to Riverhead was on Route 58, Mr. Malvese said.
“Back then, there was a lot more activity at this end of Route 58,” said Al Cooley, now company president. In 1983 he was the first general manager of the company’s Riverhead store. “Now, we’re almost left here by ourselves, except for Cablevision,” Mr. Cooley said.
Many stores that once occupied the eastern end of Route 58 have either gone out of business or relocated to the western part of the road.
“Riverhead decided it wanted to change the business district and they did. They made the zone down west a lot more attractive and everyone wanted to go down there,” Mr. Malvese said
But that hasn’t affected business.
“We don’t get a lot of impulse buyers,” Mr. Malvese said. “It’s very rare that somebody is driving down the street and decides they want to buy something here. Most of our business is commercial or government.”
Since it began operations in 1912, Malvese Equipment has survived the Great Depression, World War II and this most recent down economy. So what’s the key to another 100 years?
“When you’ve been in business 100 years, you see highs and lows,” Mr. Malvese said. “You see them and adjust to the conditions you’ve got and move forward.”