The “H” and “C” in H & C Heating and Cooling Contractors doesn’t stand for “heating” and “cooling,” as scores of customers have assumed over the past half-century. It stands, rather, for the founders who started a bootstrap business in 1969, according to second-generation owner Brian Harvey.
His father, Paul Harvey, and Virgil Cox founded the two-man company originally located on Laurel Avenue.
Now in its 50th year, the Laurel landmark business has served hundreds of thousands of customers; its “largest footprint” is at Patuxent Place on Main Street. The HVAC contractor has served dozens of Laurel churches, major car dealerships, banks, realtors, and restaurants. For the city, it has performed work at the public works building, recreation and parks facilities and at the old Laurel City Hall.
The firm also enjoys a large customer base in Howard and Prince George’s counties, including a Supreme Court judge.
“Oh gosh, he’d be very happy,” Harvey said of his dad. “Success is not necessarily just finances or how many boxes we’ve sold; it’s the impact we’ve made on people’s lives.”
True to that outlook, H & C supports dozens of charities and collects food for holiday food drives while on service calls.
H & C installed HVAC systems in the circa 1950 Elizabeth House — where FISH of Laurel operates a food pantry for the homeless — in the late 1980s when the house was dedicated, and again more recently.
Both times, the materials and labor were provided free of charge.
Business and residential customers often request technicians by name, and the company is proud to serve some of their children and grandchildren.
Harvey’s employees, whose count remains steady at about 20, also span generations.
His daughter, Lauren, who worked for the family business before deciding to be a stay-at-home mom, is married to employee Derek Merrill. Another staff member who went to school with Harvey’s kids, Chris Knox, married Taylor Smith, the daughter of long-term staffers Tim and Vicky Smith.
“It really is a human business,” Harvey said. “We’ve had generations of family working here and more employees are related [to each other] than not.”
His employees put together an informal luncheon to celebrate H & C’s golden anniversary earlier this year, and the company will host a celebration in warmer weather in the near future.
Years away from retiring, Harvey, 54, said that whether the company will grow into a third-generation family-owned business is uncertain; his youngest son, Matthew, is only 13 and will attend college before entering the workforce.
The initials in the company’s name are remnants of a time when Main Street was a major shopping hub, and where the Harvey family was already part of the Laurel business community.
In the 1950s, Harvey’s grandfather, Moses Harvey, owned the now-closed Laurel Meat Market. (Billy Miles, who retired last year, purchased it from Moses Harvey in the early 1970s.)
Harvey said his father grew up on the family farm, in what is now Maple Lawn, and helped his grandfather cut meat after school. Handwriting was not exactly Paul Harvey’s strong suit and when he wrote “meat cutter” on his application to enlist in the Navy, it read like something else.
Unwittingly, his son’s future was set into motion.
“The Navy looks at it and says, ‘metal cutter,’ and into the metal shop he went,” Harvey said of his father, who graduated from Howard High School. “I used to tell my kids, ‘If your granddad had better handwriting, I’d probably be working at Safeway cutting meat instead of cutting sheet metal.’ ”
After graduating from Howard High School and his stint in the Navy, Paul Harvey attended a trade school. In 1969, he started the HVAC company with Cox and then bought out his partner in the early 1980s.
Cox then started Cox A/C and Electric in Laurel and now is retired and lives in West Virginia. The company he co-founded retains the ‘C’ representing his name.
In 1992, H & C Heating and Cooling moved to a warehouse complex on Maier Road.
When Paul Harvey died unexpectedly in 1997, his son picked up the reins that he’s held ever since.
Harvey still vividly recalls late 2002, when the company’s white box service trucks were frequently pulled over by police searching for John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, the D.C. snipers who were shooting people around the metropolitan area and reported to be driving the same type of vehicles.
In 2007, Harvey’s good friend, Mark Knox — whose kids went to the same school and church as his own — approached him for advice about selling his company, Kensington Cooling and Heating.
Harvey wound up buying it, and Knox and his sons, Tony and Chris, all work at H & C Heating and Cooling today.
Harvey lives on the same street in Highland where he grew up, and where his father and grandfather lived in separate houses.
He started working in his dad’s shop when he was in the seventh grade. After graduating from Atholton High School, he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1985.
A small part of his time is spent doing design work, Harvey said; most is spent managing the business. The biggest difference in the way the company operates today, compared to a half- or quarter-century ago, lies in technology.
“The last 25 years, we’ve had a lot more diagnostic tools, a lot more computerized stuff. The guys have access to data right on their phones that we didn’t have before,” he said.
Randy Kroop, the last proprietor of an old world-style shoemaker shop on C Street that closed last summer, said A. M. Kroop and Sons was an H & C customer for at least 40 years.
Founded by her grandfather, the shoemaker shop stood next door to the Laurel Meat Market. Harvey said Hall of Fame jockey Willie Shoemaker bought steaks from his grandfather, while the Kroops crafted size 1½ custom boots for Shoemaker when he was in town to ride at Laurel Park.
H & C technicians, Kroop said, are very friendly and personable; she and David Forshey enjoyed talking about their dogs.
She said she always told “the guys” the same thing when they came to check on her system in recent years.
“Just make her last until I retire!” And they did.
Residential customer Elaine Hancock, of North Laurel, an H & C customer for over 30 years, said she has the company’s phone number memorized.
“I feel like I know Vicky Smith and Ruth Palmer personally,” she said.
Vicky and Tim Smith live a stone’s throw from the Hancocks off Whiskey Bottom Road. Tim Smith has been servicing the Hancock’s air conditioner for years, and Elaine Hancock said she often runs in to him around town.
Laurel business owner Brian Madden said he met Brian Harvey about four years ago, when a friend referred him to answer an HVAC question. When Harvey joined the BNI Alliance, a business networking and referral service of which Madden is a member, the two became good friends.
H & C installed new systems at Madden’s Allstate Insurance business, as well as at his home in Annapolis.
“It’s all about relationships and trust,” Madden said. “Brian takes care of the customer in a way that’s kind of old-fashioned; you’re hand-held all the way through … and Brian stands behind his products.”
Columbia resident Barbara Mangraviti said her late husband, Nicholas, was an architect who contacted H & C for estimates and suggestions about working with design for his clients.
H & C has continued to service Mangraviti’s home and other properties the family owned in Columbia since Nicholas Mangraviti died.
“They’ve been lifesavers,” Barbara Mangraviti said of H & C. “I’ve had some real problems, and they’ve always been there to help me. They’re an amazing group of people.”
Harvey appreciates the compliments.
“Our guiding principle here is very simple — to simply treat people the way we’d like to be treated,” Harvey said. “That’s very much the way my dad operated, and that’s how we continue to operate.”