Despite global economic recession and local double-digit unemployment, many small business owners in Fulton County say there has never been a better time than right now to open a new business.
In November Karen Coppola closed down her Classic Image beauty salon and tuxedo rental business at 58 E. Main St. She said she found there were too many other local businesses competing in salon and haircutting businesses and decided to reinvent her business as a flower shop, gift and homemade candy store and tuxedo rental business called Bella Fiori. She reopened prior to Valentine’s Day to prepare for the “flowers and candy” business generated by the holiday and is now preparing for a grand opening Wednesdayto introduce the public to her new products. She said adapting her business model has helped her increase her customer traffic even during these difficult economic times.
“People still want things, obviously, and basically the price is the biggest kicker. People don’t want to pay $50 for a candle, so we’re very affordable,” Coppola said.
Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce President Wally Hart said throughout Fulton County he’s seeing new entrepreneurs taking chances and starting businesses for a variety of reasons. “Anybody who’s looking to start a business is looking at opportunities. They look and see this as a down time, so maybe it won’t be as expensive to start up the business. Maybe they left another position or things were getting tight where they were and they say ‘all right I’ve had enough. I’ve always wanted to do this and I’m just going to do it,’ ” Hart said. “If starting a business is something you’ve always wanted to do, when is ever a good time? Is it harder to start up when the economy is booming? I don’t know when it is ever a good or bad time to start a business.”
John Lomanto, a veteran chef who said he’s worked for restaurants like the Gideon Putnam and taught cooking classes at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, said he purchased Mama Karen’s Deli at 124-126 S. Main St. in Gloversville in December and transformed the deli into “Chef Lomanto’s Market,” an open-concept gourmet food shop.
“I don’t have any waitresses. It’s all self-serve food pick up and delivery. You can come here and get filet mignon with blue cheese on it or you can come in here and have a BLT,” Lomanto said. “I saw that Gloversville and the surrounding areas couldn’t get the same foods people are eating in Miami, Chicago and Atlanta and that’s what I want to bring to the table.”
Hart, a veteran restaurant owner himself, said although operating a restaurant can be a difficult business, people will still go out to eat even during a recession because the pressures of day-to-day life haven’t changed that much.
Lomanto said when the chance to create his dream kitchen presented itself he had to go for it. He said in addition to the restaurant he’s going to do catering and small cooking classes for additional revenue streams for his small business.
“When opportunity knocks, you’d better open the door,” he said.
Marty Krempa, the owner of furniture refinishing business D&M Custom Workshop, said the recession has in some ways helped him start his second business, Krempa Custom Landscaping. He said he’s been doing landscaping work during the summertime for years but now he’s taken advantage of recession prices to purchase new equipment, including a sub-compact backhoe/loader and a large dump wagon and trailer, which will enable him to do big jobs in little spaces, a niche he hopes to thrive in. He said his landscaping company will now be a full-service enterprise capable of almost any project a landowner might want.
“Can’t retire, obviously, for economic reasons. I really enjoy what I do and my wife helps me in the summertime, so we just want to expand,” Krempa said. “You can buy leftover equipment right now where you can really make a deal. If you look hard enough it’s out there today from other people who’ve failed.”
Carol Ziemann and her husband, Karl, are an example of a couple from the New York City area who’ve succeeded at a business downstate and are looking to start something new on Caroga Lake. Carol said in 2007 she and her husband sold their medical technology company to Scott Fetzer Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, and now they’re looking to reinvest the capital they made in their new enterprise, Caroga Lake Marina.
“My husband and I still have property down on Long Island, the home that we lived in for 20 years, and we’re renting that property. Right now we would really like to start growing this business. We want to be up here for the next 25 to 35 years,” she said.
“We had 35 employees at our last business and it was a high-tech business. Our competitors were GE and Philips and Siemens. Now we’re looking to do more like a mom and pop business. This has always been a dream for us.”
The Ziemanns have a 36-slip marina, of which 15 slips have been rented for next season. Carol said for their inaugural season, Caroga Lake Marina will focus on boat and kayak rentals, and her son Daniel will teach wake board and water skiing lessons as the family works toward gaining local and state regulatory approvals to build a general store and hopefully sell gasoline for boats and snowmobiles. She said working with the Adirondack Park Agency or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is not unlike the approval process her technology company went through with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“We realize what is facing us, but we also have a little experience. There’s never a ‘good’ time,” she said.