Family Traditions Continue at Morro Bay Appliance

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 1, 2024

Mike and Annette Mlnarik have sold the Morro Bay Appliance Store and retired. Photo by Neil Farrell

As far as family-owned and run businesses go, not many match the endurance of Morro Bay’s lone appliance store.

And now, the Main Street store is under new ownership — its fourth and third family.

Former owners, Annette and Mike Mlnarik, relinquished ownership of the store on Feb. 4 to Julia and Chris Nichols, a young couple from Nipomo.

The store sale takes a huge burden off of the Mlnariks, as Mike continues a battle against lung cancer, the No. 1 reason he was willing to step away from a profitable business and a job that he loved.

“I feel like I’m doing good,” Mike said, “but I want to enjoy the rest of my life.”

Mike’s lung cancer, first detected about 7-years ago, led to removal of one of the lobes on his lungs, and rounds of chemotherapy.

It looked like he’d beaten the disease, but it came back. 

“For about eight months, everything looked good,” Mike explained. “I had a scan done and it turned up two tumors in the lower lobe. The tumors found a way around the [chemo] block.”

That scan also turned up a cracked rib that he was unaware of. “That happened while I was deep sea fishing,” Mike said of one of his beloved past times. “That was right after the hurricane happened.”

Now the tumors are near to his heart making them hard to reach for a biopsy to further diagnose the illness.

Last year, he and Annette decided to put the business up for sale and retire, and then spend time traveling and enjoying their remaining time together.

“We worked six days a week,” Annette said. “It’s become too much.”

“The doctor,” Mike adds, “can’t tell me how much longer I have” to live.

The business was on the market for nearly a year and last December, they’d made the decision that the store would have to close for good. 

From left, Julia and Chris Nichols receive the keys to the Morro Bay Appliance Store from former owners Annette and Mike Mlnarik. The Nichols took over the business on Feb. 4. Photo by Neil Farrell

With just a few days left on their deadline to sell or close, the Nichols’ contacted their broker and a possible sale gave them hope, so the store stayed open.

It was the reprieve the Mlnariks were praying for and one of the longest continuously open businesses in Morro Bay has gotten a fresh lease on life.

Mike bought the store from his parents, Jim and Sherry Mlnarik, in May 2012, with Annette joining him as store manager after they got married. 

Mike’s parents had owned the business for 19 years before they retired. They bought it from the founders, Rhoda and Bob DeSomer, who had it for more than 20 years before they retired. Morro Bay Appliance has been one of the foundation stones in Morro Bay’s Downtown business district for over five decades.

And now, the Nichols are eager to continue the family tradition.

Chris Nichols said he spent years working in natural resources management first for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and most recently for the City of San Luis Obispo. He said this has long been his dream.

“My dream and my goal,” Chris said, “has been to own my own business.” 

He said they had been looking for something to buy into and found an online sale ad for the appliance store. Julia said she did some research on the business and turned up a story Estero Bay News had done in 2022, when Annette retired from doing hair, closed her salon down and joined Mike at the store to run the office. 

“I liked the history of the business,” Chris said. “It’s been here a long time.”

As a specialty store that only sells appliances — new and reconditioned used ones too — one has to be able to fix the machines, and that means learning the technical aspects of the appliances. The image of a bored Maytag repairman form TV commercials, has no basis in reality for small businessowners like the Mlnariks.

The 2,200 square foot appliance store comes with a basement storage room and a full workshop and parts repository in the back room. There’s even some office space at the back of the store.

Mike, when he came to work for his parents, learned the trade from a long-time employee and through hard work has made service calls and reselling used appliance part of his gig. The used models, he completely goes through fixing whatever’s wrong and cleaning them up, and then puts them back on the floor. Such used appliances are popular with folks who have rental properties, and he’s got numerous apartment-sized refrigerators, too.

Mike said he will miss doing the service calls, because of all the interesting people he meets, and all the good work he’s able to do for them. He’s also a bit of a “picker” who loves to go to auctions and to buy unusual things that catch his eye — from a nickel slot machine to wooden Indians, a bearskin rug, and a stuffed armadillo.

He’s also found several antique appliances and after fixing them too, has them on display in the front of the store, facing the street, in a small shrine to the past.

The sale came with a pledge to help the new owners learn the business, so the Mlnariks stayed around for several weeks teaching them the ropes. 

Chris said they planned to hire a full-time repair technician and may have already found a guy to bring aboard. “We wanted to keep everything going,” Chris explains of what was a pretty seamless transition. 

Julia said, “We’re learning the business and rolling along.”

“We’re like two sponges,” Chris laughed, “absorbing all their knowledge.”

Julia grew up in Novato in the Bay Area and moved here after high school it go to Cal Poly. First, she went to Cuesta College for a year but when she wanted to transfer to Poly, she couldn’t. That was during a time when the school wasn’t taking new students, she explained, so she ended up at Fresno State studying animal sciences. But that year at Cuesta was enough to make her want to return to the Coast after school.

Chris grew up here and attended Hancock College in Santa Maria before going to Chico State, he said. They have a 2-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter. 

The Nichols’ are stepping into quite a challenge, as anyone who has their own business could probably attest. But the sale comes as a relief for the Mlnariks, who had a lot of stress fall away in an instant.

Indeed, Estero Bay News had planned on doing a big story last December about the impending store closure and the big sale they had planned. But when the Nichols’ offer came in, they asked to hold the story for what in the end is a much happier ending and continuation of a successful family-owned business that’s over 50 years in the telling.

Morro Bay Appliance is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. It’s located at 935 Main St. Call 805-772-2755.

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