Born in 1932, Millman has watched as the area has transformed itself. From pushing his family farm’s first tractor in 1937 to laying the cornerstone of the old Cape Henlopen High School building in 1976, he has amassed extensive knowledge of the area over the past 78 years. Millman has truly seen it all and through it all has been willing to give back to the community.
After he graduated from high school, major changes in the area began. “World War II really changed the complexion of the area,” he said. “It really started booming after.”
He graduated from Lewes High School in 1950 and soon began working at a hosiery, where he met his future wife’s father. He married Shirley in 1953, and was then drafted into the Army and was sent overseas for 18 months during the Korean War conflict.
Returning from Korea, he returned to the hosiery mill, but the effects of the war were obvious – and one of them was that women were no longer buying so many stockings. The mill was half its original size, and it continued to shrink. He realized that he needed to find somewhere else to work.
Millman’s next job was at White Packing Company, where he packaged meat. “It was an experience to work in a slaughterhouse, but it was a fair and honest job,” he said.
A new business
In 1969 Millman started a Montgomery Ward Catalog retail location in a building on Route 1. “This is where we really got to know what life was about,” he said. “People in the area started changing.” Tourists from all over the country were beginning to discover the Delaware beaches, and the small town that Millman grew up with was quickly expanding.
When Montgomery Ward went out of business, Millman changed the shop into an appliance store. “The building was an investment that I couldn’t throw away,” he explained. “I realized I learned something about appliances, so I decided to do it.”
Since 1985, Millman’s Appliances has sold and serviced appliances in the Lewes and Rehoboth areas. The store is still known for Millman’s original slogan, “We sell the best and service the rest.”
“I wanted to give something to the community,” Millman said. “The slogan wasn’t just something that sounded good. You can’t take all the time; you need to give back.”
Millman has lived that philosophy through his own business. While he and Shirley never had children of their own, Millman has helped young people start businesses and find success in what they love to do.
The first businessman who started out with Millman is Gary Chorman. After 35 years of owning Millman’s Appliances, Millman gave Chorman a proposal to work at the shop. Millman knew him from church and also knew he needed a new job. The two worked together for two years before Millman decided to retire, leaving the store to Chorman.
Raymond Chorman also worked for Millman for 14 years before deciding to buy Hillside Florists. Millman helped him establish himself in his new location because he believes Chorman has natural talent for floral work.
Millman said he also helped Trevor Best start Henlopen Appliances by sending him to service school to be a technician. “I would put him against any serviceman in the United States now,” Millman said.
“It is very hard for a young person to get into a business today,” he said. “They have to be involved and patient with people, and they can’t be an absentee owner. They just need to keep working with it without worrying about what other people are doing.”
Millman also believes that learning from experience is the key to success as a businessman. “O.J.T.: On-the-job training. It’s the best type of learning there is.”
A changing area
Millman has seen both ups and downs during his many years in the Lewes area. “I couldn’t begin to explain the changes that have happened in the area,” he said. “Usually in the appliance business you can sense a change in the economy before others feel it, and we saw another big change coming with the housing boom four or five years ago.”
While through his business he could see hard times coming for the people of Sussex County, Millman has no doubt that luck will turn around for the better. “The economy always makes its way back. I’ve seen eight to 10 downturns while in the business,” he shared. “I really believe that if you hang in there with God, he’ll hang in there with you.”
Now that Millman is retired, he finds volunteering and working for the community to be very fulfilling. “I do it because I have time now, and it’s what I really wanted to do,” he said. He volunteers at Meals on Wheels, Hospice and the Lewes Senior Center with his wife of 57 years. He is also an active member of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church, the Masonic Lodge, Henlopen Grange and the Gideons.
In addition to his contributions as a business man and volunteer, Millman has also made a physical impact on the Lewes area. The Millman farmhouse has been moved from its place behind Red Mill Pond in Lewes to a spot near Shaffer’s Service. Millman joked about the secluded original location of his farmhouse. “I always told people that they had to pump sunlight to the house because it was so far back from the highway.”
There is also a Howard Millman Lane, near Paynter’s Mill in Lewes, which was also part of the Millman farm property before it was sold.
Millman has shown the same perseverance needed to start his successful appliance business as he recently battled prostate cancer, completing radiation treatments this month. He still lives in Lewes with Shirley. Millman emphasized the importance of staying humble and not forgetting one’s beginnings.
“The one thing I learned about business is that you have to use what you have - your two hands and feet. You can’t start anything from the top.”