By Kristen Pope
Anyone driving down Weaver Street easily could miss Sparrow and Sons Plumbing.
With just a small white sign in front of a historic yellow house, only the trucks with the company’s name and logo in the back give away the fact that there is a thriving business operating out of the old mill home.
But maybe an old home is the perfect setting for Sparrow and Sons. Owned by several members of the Sparrow family in a sort of co-op, the company is just as much a slice of down-home as it is a business.
Michael Sparrow is in the fourth generation of Sparrows to own the plumbing company. His great-grandfather started the business in 1952 after working for another local plumbing company.
“(It’s) probably one of the oldest local businesses around,” he said.
His father, Jerry Sparrow, who owned the business before Michael Sparrow, retired at the first of the year. Now Michael Sparrow owns part of the store in a sort of co-op with four other family members, including his brother, Jonathan.
The business was located on Rosemary Street but has been in its Carrboro location for more than 40 years, Michael Sparrow said.
Though Sparrow said he does not know the extent of the company’s history, he remembers practically growing up in the store.
Sparrow said that he has been helping out during the summer for as long as he can remember and that he has been working there full time since 1988.
“We used to sleep under that desk,” he said, pointing to the big wood desk that his grandmother still works at, answering the phone and greeting people who come into the store.
“I just feel lucky to be born into it,” Sparrow said.
And the family ties of the company are not just limited to the family. Sparrow’s grandmother said many of their customers have become like family.
“Some customers have been here 40 or 50 years,” Sparrow said. “We try to treat our customers like we want to be treated.”
Sparrow said that while they do business all over the country, most of their business is local. He said they also get many new customers, usually people who just moved into town and were referred to the company.
Sparrow and Sons is able to maintain its deep customer loyalty because of its commitment to doing good work and standing by its good service, Sparrow said.
He said that they are successful because they are not trying to be the cheapest, but trying to do the best work in a timely manner.
“We’re treating people fairly,” Sparrow said. “If it’s urgent to them, it’s urgent to us.”
Employees at Sparrow and Sons are made to feel like family too. Sparrow said some of their 30 total employees have been there for 35 years.
“We treat them well,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of turnover.”
Frank Abbott, who has worked at Sparrow and Sons for more than a decade, said he enjoys working in a business with family values.
“In a large degree it’s a family-run business with those types of values,” he said. “They’re a great family.”
Abbott, who went to Virginia Tech, said he has lived in North Carolina “for a while” and has officially adopted UNC has his favorite team.
Having lived in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Abbott said Sparrow’s has a great reputation and might be the oldest family-run business in the area.
“It’s grown to what it is today,” he said.
He said working at Sparrow and Sons fits him because he “never cared too much for the suit.”
“You’re at work and you’re busy, but it’s fun too,” he said.
And that’s exactly the balance Sparrow tries to strike. He said the best part of working at family-owned business is getting to spend time with his family, but at the same time, the challenge is drawing the line between family issues and business.
“At times it has to be business is business,” he said.
Sparrow said Carrboro has been a great place to work, even with all the changes they’ve seen.
“We haven’t changed as much as Carrboro has,” he said.
And there is no stronger sign of Carrboro’s change from mill town to a locally owned artistic center than the transformation of former homes of mill workers to local businesses — businesses like Sparrow and Sons that have stood the test of time and are now part of Carrboro’s history themselves.