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By Mike Hazlip–
The front counter of Citrus Heights Saw & Mower is already buzzing with customers by 9 a.m., some of them waiting since before the doors of the father-and-son business swung open at 7:15 a.m.
After 55 years in business, it’s just another day for the local establishment. Owner Gary Cook says he is very fortunate to have the business and it’s been good for his family.
Cook was four when his father, Gordon Cook, took over Citrus Heights Saw & Mower from a previous owner, in 1964.
Cook, now 59, says he grew up in Citrus Heights and would ride his bike between his father’s business and the family home. Traffic was much lighter then, with only “three or four cars every five minutes,” he said.
The younger Cook was selling wholesale tires for Goodyear when his father said he needed some extra help with the business.
“I wasn’t gonna stay,” Cook said, “But I’ve been here ever since.”
That was 26 years ago, and although Cook’s father passed away last year, the family business continues to hum with the help of his son, Ryan, and nephew, John.
“I couldn’t do it without ‘em,” Cook said of his family’s help. “Just a lot of hours we put in, but it’s good… I can leave without worrying about anything.”
Ryan, 32, has been working along side his dad for 12 years, and Cook now relies on his son to keep up with new products. “I have to ask them questions now,” he said.
The saw and mower industry has changed through the years.
“Years ago we had two Echo string trimmers and one blower. Now we got eight different models of blowers and eight different models of string trimmers,” said Cook. “They’re changing all the time.”
Not only have the products changed, but keeping track of the business has also changed. There are computers at the counters now, and the company has a web presence.
“It’s hard for me because we used to write everything on paper,” Cook said. “All the work orders, all the receipts were all paper, hand written.”
Cook says the biggest challenge for the business is keeping up with the workload.
“We do 12,000 repairs a year,” Cook said, pointing out an array of more than a hundred mowers in the back. “We have seven mechanics. That can be challenging, trying to get it right, make sure the customers are happy.”
Cook never graduated college, instead focusing on the family business. His family didn’t take a vacation for years, as the time flew by.
“The time goes by so fast,” he said. “It seems like it goes Monday, Friday, Monday, Friday. I don’t know where the middle of the week goes.”
Cook now sees his father’s work ethic in his own son. They open the business at 7:15 each morning with customers already waiting to be helped. They continue waiting on customers until closing up shop at 5 p.m. each day.
When asked if he tries to instill the work ethic he wants to see in his kids, Cook replied: “Don’t have to. It’s already there.”
He added that he does teach his children to appreciate what they have.
“My son and my daughter paid for everything growing up,” said Cook. “My son bought a house when he was 20. So did my daughter. They both moved out when they were 19.”
Cook’s son Ryan says the most important lesson he learned from his dad is how to work with people. He said describing his dad as generous would be an understatement, noting his care for both employees and customers, as well as donating items for local little league raffles.
“He’s extremely friendly,” Ryan said of his father. “He’s willing to do anything for anybody, and it’s what’s built this business.”
The Cooks say working together in the business brings them closer as a family. John Cook, Gary’s nephew, agrees: “It’s really easy. We get along really well.”
“We all have the same goal,” Ryan said of the family’s working relationship. “No one has their own personal agenda. We’re all on the same team.”
Father’s day for the Cooks won’t be much different than their typical Sunday afternoon barbecuing hot dogs at the family home.
“My dad loved hot dogs,” Cook said of his father, Gordon. “He’d come to my house in the spring and summer about every Sunday. So we keep the tradition goin’.”
Sundays are the one day the family has always closed shop and takes the day off, even though it’s a peak day for yard maintenance.
“We could be making a lot more money,” Ryan said of opening the shop seven days a week.
Ryan remembers learning life lessons through spending time with his father and grandfather.
“He taught me how to fish, how to hunt, how to drive — at a young age,” Ryan said of his grandfather. “(Also) hard work. How hard work pays off.”
Gary Cook is now a first-time grandfather, with a seven-month-old grandchild, and is proud of his family. He says Father’s Day is an important tradition in the country, but is concerned about where things may be headed.
“It seems like it’s divided so much now than it used to be. It’s really unfortunate,” said Cook. “Everybody always goes to God when they need something, but, other than that, they kick Him to the side. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
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