"I guess we got lucky and then we never had to leave Lititz, which is just the best place in the world," said Roy Clair, 63. The business his brother, now retired, and he have built is the largest big-stage sound-system company in the world.
Barbra Streisand is touring with a Clair Brothers system, as have Billy Joel, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and countless other rock and pop acts. Broadway theaters, the Grand Ole Opry, churches, stadiums and concert halls the world over have come to Lititz to get those systems.
Clair Brothers is one of a half-dozen companies that have their headquarters in this 250-year-old former Moravian settlement of 9,000, several turnpike exits from even the Philadelphia exurbs. It is the home of the world's largest maker of mousetraps, the oldest pretzel bakery, a competitor to the Hershey Kiss, Listerine, and a couple of rock businesses that complement Clair Brothers.
"Lititz is just filled with hard-working people. It is the German heritage, to come here and make good. Look around, wouldn't you love to live here?" said Andy Woolworth, the executive vice president - "Chief Rat," he calls himself - at the Woodstream Corp., makers of the Victor mousetrap, the most popular in the world.
Lititz is, indeed, a lovely looking place, about a 90-minute drive west of Philadelphia. Main and Broad Streets, which intersect at the middle of town, are filled with well-kept buildings, some more than 200 years old, many now bed-and-breakfasts or antiques stores.
Richard Hudnut grew up in Lititz, but went to New York to find his fortune in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical business. In the 1950s, having merged with the Warner company, he built a factory in his hometown. A series of mergers later, it is owned now by Pfizer Inc. and is the place where the elixir Listerine is made and distributed.
"It is a place businesspeople seem to want to be connected to," said Russell L. Pettyjohn, the current Lititz mayor, a retired carpenter, whose father and uncles had shoe manufacturing businesses here.
H.O. Wilbur & Sons company started a rage in the late 1800s with Wilbur Buds, each bud being a small, conical mountain of chocolate, just a little crunchier than a Hershey Kiss. Wilbur is now owned by Cargill, but still employs a couple of hundred people and has a small chocolate museum in Lititz.
Also with its own museum is the Sturgis Pretzel Co., an outgrowth of what the company claims is the first pretzel bakery in America, founded in 1861 by Julius Sturgis. Only a dozen or so bakers are needed to make Sturgis Pretzels these days, but the museum on Main Street is a testament to industry in Lititz, said Mayor Pettyjohn.
Clair Brothers has spawned two other Lititz music businesses - Tait Towers and Atomic Design. Michael Tait had been touring with the old rock group Yes as its lighting and staging director for several years when he saw the group devolving, said Roy Clair.
"When Yes would come here to test sound systems, he would always come and stay with us. He loved the small town, especially after always being on the road," said Clair. So 20 years ago, Tait came to Lititz, eventually partnering with one of his first employees, a local college student named James Fairorth. They now own Tait Towers, which claims to be the largest rock-and-roll stage-building business in the world. Among the current and recent tours for which Tait has built staging are those by Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.
Fairorth said Tait attempts to be a bit of a secret, not even having a Web presence. He admits that adds to the mystique of being in Lititz in the first place. Rockers and other stars visit on occasion, but never get put off.
"Oh, I do remember one time [skateboard star] Tony Hawk came here to check out staging and by the end of the day, about 50 local kids were here to see him. But he was impressed at how polite they were," said Fairorth.
In 1993, Tom McPhillips, a British designer who had done work with both Clair Brothers and Tait Towers on the rock circuit, decided he, too, liked the small-townness of Lititz and started a stage-designing business, Atomic Designs. The symbiosis of having all three businesses there, said Fairorth, makes being in Lititz all the better. Among the three businesses, there are about 900 employees in Lititz.
"Groups, promoters, they know they can do everything here," Fairorth said. Atomic does its work in studio, and Tait constructs staging, shipping it out from its factory in town. Clair Brothers sends employees on the road to supervise the sound systems it develops for clients.
Like the oft-quoted - if actually apocryphal - line from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Andy Woolworth's company has long built better mousetraps and the world has beaten a path to its door. The Victor snap-action mousetrap comes from Lititz, invented here by John Mast in 1899. The simple wood trap with big red V on it is ubiquitous - at a four-pack for $2.25, "the best cheap solution to mouse control anywhere," said Woolworth.
Woodstream has sold more than a billion of that most rudimentary mousetrap, said Woolworth. He, too, was a local boy who left town - to Harvard University in the 1960s, to study English, just like Emerson, before coming back to town to lead Woodstream. Emerson actually wrote, "If a man has good corn, or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell . . . you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house," but the story was passed down to schoolchildren as mousetraps, so that's fine with Woolworth.
In recent years, Woodstream has branched out into other pest control and organic agricultural products, but its 300 Lititz employees are always looking for better ways to trap rodents, its foremost business.
"I'd have to say that our best ideas come from people not just in research, but on the factory floor," said Woolworth. The company now makes mazelike traps for people who don't want to kill the mice, covered plastic snap-traps for people who don't want to look at the mice they kill, and even the Victor Sonic PestChaser. The Sonic PestChaser - $16.53 for two on the Victor Web site (www.victorpest.com) - emits a high-pitched squeal.
"It is like a foghorn combined with fingernails on a blackboard to a mouse," said Woolworth.
While the Lititz business honchos don't necessarily get together, they still appreciate each other's work.
"I still remember watching The Exorcist and there was that big red 'V' on a mousetrap," said Clair. "I gave a little shout. It was great seeing something from Lititz up there on the big screen."
View a slide show on the enterprising town of Lititz, at http://go.philly.com/lititz