But Bill Bird - who was born the same year as the business and took over when his father died in 1963 - had more trouble closing his doors for the last time, which he did Friday.
"It's easier to start a business than end one," Bird said. "We care about these people. "
Walking away might have been easier, but he first wanted to make sure his eight remaining employees had other jobs lined up and that customers wouldn't be left stranded.For the next month, one employee will remain to answer questions and direct customers to what Bird considers the next-best alternative to his business, Russel's Heating and Air Conditioning. "It's (run by) my niece's husband. I taught him everything he knows," Bird said, although with a smile he showed professional pride still edged out family pride. "We're in friendly competition. I can still outsell anyone, but they're good. "
Calls to 909-889-0618 will be forwarding to Russel's.
Bird Refrigeration started out of a rented 300-square-foot building, before moving in the early '50s to its present location, the first commercial structure built by Neal Baker, who before that had built homes and afterward started the Baker's Drive-Thru restaurant chain. Bird, in his mid-teens at the time, worked for Baker.
The current building, which Bird now has up for sale, is 15,000 square feet.
Among the 6,000 names he has in his database, Bird thinks his most prominent likely include 280 tons of product installed at San Manuel Casino, 100 tons installed at Carousel Mall and work for the Arrowhead Elks Lodge. He's also worked with companies owned by former mayors Bob Holcombe and Al Ballard, he said.
But it's the people that they'll remember, said his wife, Beverly, 79.
"We loved working with them, and we loved the trust we got from them over so many years," she said.
Not that they aren't looking forward to retirement.
"Every day's going to be fun day, and thank God for the next day," Beverly said.
Trust is the key term, said Guenther Griebau, who said he's worked with Bird for 25 years on multiple projects and taken it upon himself to be the company's booster.
"I only associate myself with the best, and that's Bird Refrigeration," Griebau said. "You can always count on them. "
To Judi Penman, executive director of the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, it was clear that came from a deep commitment to the area. "I'm heartbroken, because they were both so involved in the community," she said.
"They gave their heart and soul for the community in everything they did. There aren't so many businesses like that anymore. "