Larry Simon keeps busy with refinishing business and other lifelong hobbies

Monday, August 6, 2012
Larry Simon stands in his basement workshop. After retiring, the Cape Girardeau resident started a business refinishing woodwork. (ADAM VOGLER)

Larry Simon, who's been refinishing furniture since he was a teenager, has turned his lifelong hobby into a part-time business.

"I'd work on old trunks and things off and on when I had the time," says Simon.

In March 2003, Simon retired from his job as a supervising engineer at Ameren, where he had worked for 33 years. A few months later, in August, he opened LCS Refinishing LLC, a business that he operates out of his Oriole, Mo., home.

"Refinishing old trunks is my specialty," says Simon, who has a large selection of the trunks for sale. "I've also [refinished] buffets, tables, chairs, beds, bedroom sets and cedar chests."

Simon is self-taught in his craft and has learned mostly by trial and error. "I've looked at a few magazine articles and I bought a book on the Internet about refinishing, but mostly, I just learned as I went along," he says.

Many of the pieces Simon refinishes have been stored in barns and attics for years. Some items come to him in pieces.

"A lot of them look like they are ready for the junk pile when I first get them, but I enjoy putting them back together and restoring them," he says. "One of my more challenging projects was an old wash stand that I did for a customer in Cape. It came to me in several pieces and some of its pieces were missing. I asked a friend of mine to make the parts that were missing, and we ended up getting it all back together and looking great."

Simon has refinished furniture pieces for family members as well as customers.

"I'm not happy until the customer is happy," says Simon. "I'm not in it for the money. I enjoy bringing old family heirlooms back to their original state, and I like seeing the happiness that brings people who own those pieces."

When he's not refinishing furniture, Simon is an avid gardener, although he admits this has been a challenging year for gardeners.

"In May, we only got about one half an inch of rain all month long," says Simon. "That's when you're trying to get new plants to grow."

Despite lack of rain and excessive heat, Simon is getting quite a bounty out of his 30-by-100-foot garden, which includes broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, beets, squash, green beans, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

"I plant about everything that you can think of that goes in a garden," says Simon. "And I end up giving a lot of [the vegetables] away."

Simon shares that his secret to a successful garden is fertilizing with organic matter.

"Plants take so much moisture out of the soil that you need organic matter, such as manure, to put moisture back into the soil," says Simon.

Maintaining his garden also takes hard work.

"You've got to cultivate the weeds. I also mulch the tomato plants with newspaper and manure. And, I had to water the garden this year due to the dry conditions."

For relaxation, Simon enjoys fishing for crappie and blue gill at many of his favorite spots, including the Elks' Lake, Lake Girardeau and the Diversion Channel. He stays fit by biking three to four times a week; he especially enjoys riding the hills at Trail of Tears State Park.

Simon and his wife, Carol, have two grown children: Nick, a Sous chef at Westwood Country Club in St. Louis, and Laura, a photographer for the Southeast Missourian newspaper.

"I enjoy helping them work on their houses and things of that nature," says Simon.

Simon is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council No. 11205 and Cape Girardeau Elks Club, secretary of the Southeast Missouri Black and Gold Chapter of the Mizzou Alumni Association, and is on the Parish Council at Old St. Vincent's Church. He volunteers as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, the 4-H stand at the SEMO District Fair and the "Eating from the Garden" program at South Elementary in Jackson. Antiquing, visiting wineries and playing guitar are also hobbies that Simon enjoys.

"The key to being happy when you're retired is that you've got to stay busy doing things that you enjoy," he says.