After more than four decades at the helm of an entrepreneurial mainstay in Forest Park, a period of declining health and the absence of an obvious successor will force real estate broker Carl Schwebl into retirement, shuttering the Reich and Becker offices at the same time.
Schwebl recently confirmed rumors that have been swirling for weeks that the longstanding business would close its doors, and said he does so with a heavy heart. Reich and Becker, prominently located at the corner of Madison Street and Circle Avenue, has been operating in Forest Park for 89 years. Agents there have figured mightily in civic organizations, business development and local charities.
“I was trying to save my baby, to no avail,” Schwebl said last week.
After starting at the company in 1964 and taking ownership with Anthony Mueller in 1976, Schwebl has remained a fixture at the business despite having endured two open-heart surgeries and a kidney transplant in the last eight years. A self-described “German cockroach,” Schwebl, 68, has also built a reputation for being an outspoken and sometimes domineering figure.
“He always tells you what he’s thinking, and that’s a good thing these days,” longtime friend and Chamber of Commerce Director Laurie Kokenes said. “He would call you up and ream your ass if he had something to say.”
In 1970 and 1971, Schwebl served as the president of the local chamber. Before him, Ernest Reich, a founding proprietor, served in the same capacity in 1937 and 1938.
For a brief period, Schwebl owned the Forest Park Review with Bill McKenzie, who was the village clerk at the time.
Along with Art Jones and others, Schwebl was also a founding member of the local Main Street Redevelopment Association.
“He was very, very involved in that way,” Jones said.
Jones and Schwebl are longtime friends in addition to having partnered on local projects. Jones, who has since relocated to South Carolina, said his relationship with Schwebl is a tremendous blessing that has provided him with some terrific stories.
“There are some that we could tell and there are some that we can’t tell,” Jones said with a laugh.
Schwebl’s ailing health, which has required regular dialysis treatment, is the biggest reason he will call it quits on Oct. 31. But he acknowledged it is the lack of a ready successor to fill his shoes that is responsible for Reich and Becker’s closure. Richard Gray, a retired firefighter in his mid 60s with ownership rights to the company, is the likely candidate but Schwebl said Gray, too, is looking at retirement. Several younger brokers in their 40s were approached about taking the business over, but Schwebl said it was apparent no one was willing to commit themselves to the company.
“If it would have been a younger person we’d still be open,” Schwebl said. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. We never really had a younger guy in the office that we groomed to keep the place going.”
The doors will lock on Halloween and the agency will officially be out of the real estate business on Nov. 16 when its liability insurance expires. The dozen or so agents employed at the office will find work elsewhere and clients will likely be divided up among existing real estate offices in the area, Schwebl said. The storefront on one of the village’s hottest corners will not change hands quickly though. Schwebl expects to occupy the space until the end of year as staff members clean out their records.
He’s optimistic that a retailer will be found to take over the storefront.
“My feelings are sad. It’s bitter sweet,” Schwebl said. “It’s sweet that I’m going to retire, but it’s hard to let go.”