NAPPANEE -- Dennis K. Mishler grew up in Nappanee and remembers the impact that custom kitchen cabinet maker Coppes Napanee Co. had on his life.
"I went home for lunch every time the Coppes whistle blew," Mishler recalled.
Today, Mishler and lifelong friend Richard L. Hamsher own the factory and hope to restore Coppes Napanee Co. Inc. to its historic prominence.
"This is Nappa
nee history. We want to grow it back to what it was, when Coppes was known as the oldest manufacturer of kitchens in the world and the employer of 260 workers," Mishler said.
Frank and John Coppes founded their company in 1876, only two years after the Baltimore & Ohio railroad tracks were laid down in Nappanee. The founders chose the name Coppes Napanee with just one "p" because federal laws at the time banned the use of trademarking city or community names in corporate titles. The furniture maker flourished because wood in this area was plentiful and German immigrants who came as lumberjacks or woodworkers became hard-working and loyal Coppes employees. At the turn of the century, Coppes employed more than 200 workers and was the largest employer in Nappanee. In its heyday, Coppes Napanee Co. and its local competitors helped establish
Nappanee as the kitchen cabinet capital of the world. The company never closed its doors, not even during the Great Depression or World War II, and it is considered the oldest kitchen cabinet maker in the United States. In addition to custom kitchens, Coppes at various times made school furniture and animal feeders. The old Dutch Kitchenette made by Coppes has become a favorite of antique collectors.
Source: Coppes Napanee Co. Inc.
Mishler and Hamsher recently purchased the company from Paul Herrold of the Chicago area for an undisclosed sum. They are majority shareholders. Donald C. Dickey of Elkhart is vice president of contractor sales and a minority shareholder.
Coppes is a shadow of its old self, employing just 14 workers in a 44,000-square-foot facility on the site of the original company. Its specialty remains custom kitchen cabinetry made from cherry, maple, hickory, oak and walnut. But it also makes bathroom vanities and storage units and other custom furniture.
"We look forward to creating a company where people don't have to go out of town to work and an atmosphere where employees enjoy what they are doing," said Mishler, the new president of the company. "My grandfather worked here, and the old values are in my blood."
Added Hamsher, vice president of manufacturing, "Coppes has always had highly skilled workers." One of the firm's cabinet makers has been with the company 48 years.
Mishler acknowledged that the kitchen cabinet industry has changed through the years and "we're looking forward to changing with it."
But the features that make a quality cabinet, such as five-eighths-inch wood in its drawers and half-inch bottoms and dove-tail corners on all drawers, will remain standard on all Coppes products. "We've maintained the quality Coppes started with. We don't intend to deviate from that," Mishler said.
At the time of the acquisition, Coppes had dealers in Chicago, Ann Arbor and New York City. Mishler has since added dealers in Dallas, Naples, Fla., Pittsburgh, Bad Axe, Mich., Shreveport, La., and San Francisco in a plan to return the company to its nationwide presence.
"We're happy with the way things are moving," Mishler said.
The company also will be working directly with contractors, including builders and interior designers. Educational and medical institutions likewise will be among Coppes' customers.
Mishler, 47, is a certified public accountant and worked for several accounting firms before establishing his own firm in Nappanee in 1994. Hamsher, also 47, has been involved in several retail operations in this area. He also worked at Holiday Rambler, where he acquired manufacturing experience and became a quality controller. Dickey has been in sales for 25 years.