Ruth Bell can’t help tearing up a little when talking about the business she and her husband started 50 years ago this week.
After all, with three of her children working beside her today, Bell Mirror & Glass epitomizes the idea of a family business.
“I remember sitting on a carpeted table drilling holes when I was 5 or 6,” said Ruth’s son Mike.
Dean Bell, who died in 2000, had been working for an even older competitor, Hopper’s Glass, when he decided to go out on his own.
“To better ourselves,” Ruth Glass, the company president, said of the move. “We got tired of working for the other guy.”
Started in a barn on North Ridge Road, Bell Mirror & Glass bought out another competitor and moved to West Douglas in the Delano neighborhood in 1966.
“We still have people looking for us on Douglas,” Ruth Bell said, even though the business moved to its current location on South Seneca in 1989.
Ruth’s daughter, Debra, started working for the family business full time in 1974 and is the secretary-treasurer. Her brothers Mike and Steve came aboard in 1982 and 1989, respectively, and are vice presidents.
It was partly his children’s desire to join the family business that prompted Dean Bell to buy a glass beveling machine in 1985. Then relatively rare, the machine, which creates an angled surface around thick glass and mirrors, allowed Bell to become a wholesaler for companies in Kansas and surrounding states.
“That was the beginning of the good times,” Ruth Bell said.
After about 20 years of that, however, the rising cost of fuel and other factors convinced the Bells to return their focus to local customers in the form of contractors and do-it-yourselfers, although it still does some wholesale business.
Today, the business custom-cuts glass and mirrors for homes and businesses – storm windows that need replacing, jewelry and trophy display cases, colored mirrors with beveled edges and other products as well. The showroom features examples of one of the biggest trends in the industry – glass-enclosed showers.
“We have a great walk-in trade, but our bread and butter has always been the new home market,” Mike Bell said.
Bell also services commercial customers, from complete storefronts to replacing a broken glass door.
One thing Bell has nothing to do with is flooring. Ruth Bell said her family’s operation is frequently confused with another longtime Wichita business, Bell’s Abbey Carpet & Floor, a former neighbor in Delano.
“We get calls for them and they get calls looking for us,” she said.
Bell Mirror & Glass has about 20 employees and three or four trucks in service most days. In the warehouse, an overhead crane is used to unload pieces of glass as big as 7 feet by 11 feet.
“We’ve never dropped one,” Mike Bell said, knocking on his wooden desk.
The business his parents started shows no sign of breaking up any time soon, either. Steve’s wife, Kim, also works there, and their daughter, Kadyn, is expected to join them this summer.
Debra Bell said the family members get along well – and not only at work.
“We all live within five miles of each other.”