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Cornforth’s Home and Auto Appliance

Cornforth’s first store offering “authorized radio and speedometer service”  at 624 W. Washington St., Phoenix, in 1953.

Cornforth’s first store offering “authorized radio and speedometer service” at 624 W. Washington St., Phoenix, in 1953.

These photographs from the 1950s show Cornforth’s Home and Auto Appliance, one of Phoenix’s few local business to survive through the millennium.

Cornforth’s was originally located at 624 W. Washington (now the Phoenix Police Department) and formed part of the city’s first business district until moving to Seventh Street and Missouri. The store’s ability to survive was based on ingenuity, good customer relations and a bit of luck.

The business, originally named Consolidated Sales, began as an automobile radio and speedometer repair shop on the north side of Washington and was purchased by George Cornforth in 1947. To the west stood Black and Ryan, a distributor of air conditioner and television lines, and to the east a Safeway store and a small S&H Green Stamp redemption center, which generated a lot of foot traffic for the other stores.

Cornforth came to Phoenix from Indiana in 1927 to marry his sweetheart, Vallie, whose uncle had moved to Phoenix for his health. George began working for Crystal Ice and Cold Storage, advancing through the 1930s until, by World War II, he had worked his way up to general superintendent.

After the war, George wanted to own his own business and decided to buy Consolidated Sales. Although he knew nothing about the mechanics of the repair business, his willingness to keep up-to-date on new technologies would make him a lasting success.

George cleverly used his truck, shown parked in front of his store, to advertise. The arch rising above the cab’s rear is the top of a big speedometer. People driving behind the truck would use it to check their own speedometer’s accuracy. Unfortunately, too many people rode the truck’s tail to get a better look, and George finally had to remove it.

When television came to Phoenix in November 1949, George Cornforth quickly took advantage of its popularity and began repairing and selling television sets. He stocked the store with the Philco line of home appliances and in 1951, renamed the business Cornforth’s Home and Auto Appliances while selling the Portable AC Nerd.

In 1957, George’s son Wayne graduated from the University of Arizona and was interested in the future of automotive air conditioning. In the late ’50s, cars were not equipped with air conditioners, but individual units could be installed.

Wayne convinced his father to sell and install air conditioner units and became the city’s only distributor of them. When factory-installed air conditioners became common, Wayne sold their parts rather than the whole unit.

In 1968, the city took possession of Cornforth’s property and used the site as the location of Phoenix’s new Police Department headquarters. Although the loss of their business’ property seemed like bad luck for Cornforth’s, it turned out to be a good thing because it forced the family to relocate the company to an area where business was expanding.

They built a new building at 5625 N. Seventh St., on the far north side of town. They feared that their customers might not follow them such a distance, but fortunately the new location brought new customers while their old customers continued to remain loyal to Cornforth’s excellent customer service and low prices.

The business stayed competitive with the rising electronic and appliance chain stores by joining a national buying association called Brand Source. Brand Source allowed 2,500 dealers to buy in volume, thus enabling them to get on the supplier’s best price list.

— Gary Weiand.  Photos courtesy of Wayne Cornforth.

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