A Family Affair
By Jared Ritz
The size of the store is overwhelming.
In one room, 22 televisions broadcasting World Cup soccer are flanked by stereo equipment and a car audio theater. The next room has more than a dozen dishwashers in the middle, with refrigerators almost completely encircling them. Furniture is decoratively placed in the third room and the gentle aroma of candles fills the air.
It's hard to believe that this all started out in someone's garage.
That someone is Frank DeRosa. The store he created, Northern Electronics, has two generations of his family working there at all times. DeRosa, the first generation, retired in 1984.
In 1962, DeRosa rolled the dice and started the business, something he considers to have been a risky endeavor.
"When you start a business, you're gambling," he said. "No one knows what it's gonna do."
DeRosa is a retired railroader who heads Havre Beneath the Streets and the Railroad Museum. He started the business as an electronics parts wholesale store, not only because he saw a need for it in the community, but he thought he could offer something else no one had.
"Service is the best' used to be at the top of our invoices," he said. "You can buy parts anywhere, but service you can't."
From his garage, DeRosa sold his service to surrounding communities and eventually across most of the state. The business stayed in its unusual location until the late 1960s, when it was relocated to the First Street building it still calls home.
His son, Larry, has been involved with the store since he was young, and thinks that a strong sense of service and hometown personality have helped Northern Electronics maintain a loyal customer base in a town filled with competition.
"I like to think we offer excellent service," Larry DeRosa said. "We aren't going to win every time, but we win more than we lose."
The DeRosas are also proud of their store's devotion to fair pricing, which includes a 30-day guarantee. It states that if a customer buys a product at Northern Electronics and during the next month finds it cheaper elsewhere, Northern Electronics will make up the difference.
Larry DeRosa said this doesn't happen very often, mainly because of the family's dedication to price shopping at other stores.
"We don't go anywhere without checking out prices," he said. "Even when we are on vacation, we are price shopping."
Larry DeRosa and his wife, Patty, have owned and operated the business since 1984. Since then, the store's inventory has changed dramatically. Northern Electronics is not just an electronics store. It sells items ranging from stereo wire to leather couches, and everything in between.
The expansions that have come along with the change in inventory have expanded the store's customer base, while at the same time made its competition stiffer, said Larry DeRosa's son, Brian, who may one day be the third generation to own Northern Electronics.
"We've always had competition, and the more you expand, the more competition you get, naturally," Brian DeRosa, 19, said.
Brian mainly handles the car audio section, but shows a wealth of knowledge about all products in the store. He will attend his sophomore year at Montana State University-Bozeman this fall, but says that won't necessarily stop his work at the store.
"I think I got a call about once a week," he said. "I am definitely full time when I'm here."
When asked if he sees his son ultimately taking over the family business, Larry DeRosa seemed excited.
"That's a fun thought," he said. "He and Katie both."
Katie Purkett, Larry's daughter, is also a family fixture at the store. Purkett, 29, recently left her job as manager at Dairy Queen to work at Northern Electronics full time. But she has worked there for much longer, she said.
"I've always liked working here. I started off cleaning here in grade school," she said.
Purkett said she has always wanted to work at the store full time and is happy with the change she made in April. She is the driving force behind the newest inventory addition at Northern Electronics the kitchen essentials area.
Scheduled to open in the next few weeks, this area will be a major addition to the store's products and layout. It will specialize in bakeware, cookware, pots, pans and kitchen gadgets.
This sort of transformation is common practice for the DeRosa family, Brian said.
"It's just part of an ongoing cycle," he said.