From a gutter-hanging business run out of a garage on Belair Street to a full-service heating and air conditioning firm, Belair Engineering has come a long way in 50 years.
Founded by Bob Herring in 1962, Belair Engineering got its start because the Levitt houses in Bowie (then Belair at Bowie) didn’t have any gutters. Herring’s father-in-law made the sheet metal and Herring made and hung the gutters on his home on Belair Drive. The neighbors liked what they saw and the rest is history.
“Bowie and Belair Engineering grew up hand in hand,” said the company’s vice president, Don Risher.
The business eventually grew out of the garage and several years later Herring opened up two hardware stores in Collington Plaza. He sold Levitt home-specific hardware items to Bowie homeowners after Belair at Bowie was incorporated into Bowie, and Levitt no longer owned the development.
Those hardware stores are where Herring’s daughter (and Belair Engineering's current president) Debbie met Don, her husband of 20 years, who joined her in the business after they married.
In the 1990s, after the big box home improvement stores like Lowe's and Home Depot moved into Bowie, the Rishers decided to close down the hardware stores and to focus on heating and cooling homes, which is what Belair Engineer is really known for in the region.
The company has 28 trucks and 16 employees in the service division. Don Risher said he considers their line of work to be a “right now” business, since people often don’t know there is a problem with their heating and air conditioning until they are too hot or too cold.
“Being a mid-sized firm, we’re able to mobilize and deal with that,” he said. “We find that we are able to get out there sooner.”
In addition to installing and servicing air conditioning and heating units, Belair Engineering also installs and services gas-powered generators and gas insert fireplaces.
Risher also said the majority of their marketing is geared towards women.
“We truly believe that women are making a lot of decisions out there,” he said.
The same can certainly be said for Belair Engineering.
“She’s running the show in a male-dominated industry,” said Risher of his wife, Debbie.
In addition to being the president of the company, Debbie Risher also has served as president of the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce (GBCC), and was the first woman elected president of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. Belair Engineering is also a member of the Crofton Chamber of Commerce.
The Rishers now live in Crofton and Belair Engineering’s showroom is in Upper Marlboro, but they remain deeply involved in the Bowie community as members of GBCC and the sponsors of many local fairs and festivals, including Bowie’s celebration of National Night Out and this month’s International Festival. They also have a team and raise money for Race for the Cure each year in support of breast cancer research.
The company may be celebrating its golden anniversary this year, but Belair Engineering and the Rishers show no signs of slowing down.
“I’m having fun,” said Don Risher. “You’ll have to drag me out of here.”