Luck Is a Temporary Thing
By Stephen Leon
a sudden interruption, a local business goes into survival
mode—and comes out stronger
the 13th, May 2005, was like any other workday for Mark Garzia.
At 5:30 PM, he closed up shop at Lexington Vacuum, the store
he and his wife Jan owned at 562 Central Ave. in Albany, and
stayed to catch up on paperwork until about 7. At home about
an hour later, he got a call from an employee who happened
to live across the street from the store: The building a few
doors down from Lexington Vacuum was on fire.
Garzia rushed back to the scene, though at first, he didn’t
realize it was his unlucky day: “I thought, oh my gosh, look
at those buildings burning,” he says, but was unaware that
his own store was in jeopardy. But the wind kept spreading
the fire eastward, and soon three buildings were ablaze. Fire
fighters worked furiously to bring the inferno under control—and
in the process, soaked Garzia’s building with water. Meanwhile,
masonry debris from the burning building next door clogged
the drain on his flat roof, which was surrounded by a knee
wall, so the water rose up, he says, to 3 feet high—“the equivalent
of a 20-foot snow load.” And inside the store, he had 6 inches
of water on the floor.
With extensive water and structural damage to the building,
Garzia knew that the business—which had operated out of 562
Central for 30 years (the Garzias bought it in 1983)—now faced
interruption and an uncertain future. “I was just horrified,”
he says of his initial feeling as the reality sunk in. “But
I knew that I had to do what I needed to do to get back in
business. Salvage what you could and get it off somewhere
where you could do temporary business.”
So the morning after the fire, he and his employees rented
trucks and began the salvage process. “My biggest concern,”
he says, “was our parts, our parts cabinets, and things like
this” (he holds up his Rolodex). Also, besides new vacuum
models in the store for sale, they had more than 50 customers’
machines in for repair—“We ended up giving most of them brand-new
Overall, Garzia says, the fire damaged maybe $80,000 worth
of inventory, but his insurance coverage was adequate to cover
the losses. And once the smoke cleared and the rest of the
inventory was salvaged, Garzia immediately began to take the
steps that would ensure his survival. “Continuity” was his
first concern, and indeed, by Tuesday, Lexington Vacuum was
open for business in a nearby warehouse. And Garzia got the
word out quickly. “We made sure that we advertised and had
signs and directed people to the new spot,” he says.
Meanwhile, in his time of need, Garzia benefited from good
business practices that were long-established: building positive
relationships with his suppliers and taking good care of his
employees and customers. “I have enough rapport with our suppliers,”
he says, “that they would do anything I asked to help us get
back on our feet. . . . The other thing in the equation is
a dedicated staff. We all worked hard to get through the crisis.”
As for customer service, the May 13 fire put Garzia to the
test the very next day. As he likes to point out, “technically,
I didn’t miss a day of business.” That’s because even with
police barricades cordoning off the whole block, and his store
in a shambles, a few customers found their way in anyway.
One elderly man skirted the barricades and walked in the front
door: He needed vacuum cleaner bags, and he needed them now.
“Just take them,” Garzia said, explaining that he couldn’t
guarantee that they’d be dry. Then the same customer said
he needed a filter, for which Garzia had to stop his salvaging
work and do some rummaging. He stifled his impatience and
found a filter that was in good condition.
A woman also came in for bags and tried to pay for them, and
again, he wouldn’t let her because they might have gotten
wet. “About four months later,” he says, “she came in and
bought an $800 piece of equipment. She said she wouldn’t go
But Garzia still had not solved the long-term problem of whether
to renovate the old place or find a new one, and for several
months, he remained unsure. Ironically, he had often thought
about moving and perhaps expanding, “but we were always so
busy that we couldn’t do it.”
Finally, when he saw the available space at 997 Central Ave.,
adjacent to one of the entrances to the Home Depot parking
lot, he also saw an opportunity. “This is a beautiful spot”
for the business, he says, “and I recognized that immediately.”
Among other things, the new location has off-street parking,
handicapped access, and 900 additional square feet of display
space. He signed a lease and moved in late last year. The
recovery from a potentially devastating blow to Lexington
Vacuum was nearly complete.
To other small businesses that might someday find themselves
in a similar predicament, Garzia offers this advice: “Think
about the possibility that it could happen, and have a disaster
plan in mind. What if the place burned? What if somebody drove
through the front window?”
Once Lexington Vacuum was fully moved in to the new digs at
997 Central, an official opening ceremony was scheduled. All
of the local television networks were there, and Albany Mayor
Jerry Jennings cut the ribbon. The recovery was complete.
The date? Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006.
The significance was not lost on Garzia, who picked the date
on purpose. “I didn’t want,” he says, “another Friday the
13th to pass us by.”
Resources for Small Businesses
it’s impossible to predict whether you will ever be faced
with a business interruption, it never hurts to try to be
as prepared as possible for that possibility. Here are some
resources to have on hand for your small business just in
case disaster strikes.
Primer for Disaster Recovery Planning in an IT Environment
by Charlotte J. Hiatt (Idea Group Publishing)
Continuity Planning Methodology by Akhtar Syed (Sentryx)
Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide
by Donna R. Childs and Stefan Dietrich (Wiley)
Disaster Recovery Handbook: A Step by Step Plan to Ensure
Business Continuity and Protect Vital Operations, Facilities
and Assets by Michael Wallace and Lawrence Webber
Recovery Planning: Strategies for Protecting Critical Information
Assets by Jon William Toigo (Prentice Hall PTR)
Risk Assessment and Business Impact Analysis: Best Practices
by Andrew Hiles (Rothstein Associates)
Red Cross, www.redcross.org/services/disaster
The Red Cross offers tips on being prepared before, during
and after a disaster strikes; it also has help lines and ways
to apply for assistance.
for Business and Home Safety, www.ibhs.org
The mission statement of the Institute for Business and Home
Safety is “to reduce the social and economic effects of natural
disasters and other property losses by conducting research
and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation
Federation of Independent Business, www.nfib.com
The nation’s largest small-business advocacy group offers
articles on “disaster-proofing” your business and getting
the right kind of insurance, among other things.
A resource from the Department of Homeland Security to help
your small business recover from anything—from a terrorist
attack to a tornado.
States Small Business Administration, www.sba.gov/disaster_recov/index
Provides local resources, counseling programs and ways to
apply for SBA disaster loan assistance.
Classics, Coffee, and Cinephiles
By David King
years into its successful run, the locally owned Spectrum
Theatre continues to adapt to changing business conditions
with new ideas for new audiences
a few minutes before midnight on a winter Friday. A line of
20-somethings clad in black T-shirts, scenester beards and
wool caps stretches along the sidewalk of Albany’s Delaware
Avenue and winds its way indoors, past a ticket booth and
into a lobby. While this might be the usual scene at any of
the local clubs, this is not exactly a club. In fact, a few
hours ago, the bench that is now packed with pierced and dreadlocked
20-somethings was occupied by a group of elderly couples who
sat together sipping tea and eating brownies. No popular band
is performing tonight. There is no out-of-town DJ here to
spin. But still there is energy in the room.
The sound of excited chatter begins to build. As though compelled
to join the cacophony, a teen in a Evil Dead T-shirt leans
closer to his companion and says, “See, what Lynch was going
for was . . .” and then is cut off by his friend, who pushes
him on as the line surges forward. Slowly, as tickets are
taken and stubs are torn, the crowd, who outnumber the available
seats, get ready to watch David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
Beginning early this year, every Friday night at midnight
the Spectrum has presented a cult film. Enthusiastic crowds
show up to catch movies they may have missed in the theater
or that they simply can’t get enough of, such as The Saddest
Music in the World, Gummo and Reservoir Dogs. The
Underground Film Series is programmed by Mike Keegan, a manager
at the Spectrum.
Friday nights at the Spectrum have traditionally been busy,
and for five years Keegan has watched things get even busier.
“I started out as a parking-lot attendant,” says Keegan. “I’d
work Friday nights. The lot would never fill up. Now on a
Friday night multiple lots get filled up. There are crowds.”
Keegan’s cult night has been a cherry on top of the recent
changes that are drawing more people to the theater.
It has been hard to miss, this increased activity around the
Spectrum. On weekends it’s common to see a sign announcing
the main lot is full, and even on weekdays there is brisk
traffic around the theater and the five-month-old Ultraviolet
Café. According to Keith Pickard, one of the Spectrum’s owners
(along with his wife Sugi Pickard and couple Scott Meyer and
Annette Nanes), the surge in activity around the theater was
precipitated first by the addition of more theaters in 1997
and more recently by the introduction of weekday matinees.
“Now the matinees are busier than some of the evening shows,”
Thanks to the renovation of the theater’s lobby, which added
seating, and the opening of the Ultraviolet Café next door
(also owned by the Spectrum owners), it is becoming more and
more common to see patrons hanging around before and after
showings, chatting about films, taking in the work of local
artists on the lobby walls or enjoying a cup of coffee.
And yet something was still missing.
According to Pickard, the Spectrum’s patrons have generally
been aged 30 and up. So, despite the solid traffic, the Spectrum
was looking to expand its audience. Keegan’s cult-film night
is one of the ways the theater is reaching out to a younger
is exactly why we are doing midnight showings,” says Pickard.
“We think this place is a cool place, and we want to try to
attract more students. We want them to know this is a creative
alternative to the mall experience.”
The theater also offers a student night on Wednesday and has
been advertising in high-school and college papers. “We’re
trying to say, ‘We want you to discover us and you’ll be better
off for it,’ ” says Pickard.
by the turnout at the cult-movie nights, which Keegan says
sell out about half the time, the theater may be on its way
to having the elusive youth market dead to rights, at least
on Friday nights. “We mostly get teens and people in their
20s. People who are sick of going of bars, people who want
something different to do,” says Keegan. Keegan says he has
also seen crossover between the audience for cult films and
first-run movies like Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
and Night Watch. However, Keegan notes he does not
want to shove anything down his audience’s throat. “I think
it’s important not to ‘pester’ the crowd,” he adds. “I’d like
to give them a little more credit.”
Pickard cautions that the cult-film night may not continue
to succeed indefinitely. He describes a similar cult movie
night on Sundays held years ago that eventually “petered out,”
and also notes the recent failure of “movies with moms.” “It
was for moms bringing under-5-year-olds to the movies. We
still have diaper changers. It’s one of the things that didn’t
However, Pickard insists that trying things and finding out
what the audience wants is what has kept the Spectrum a vital
part of the community. “Not everything works. We try different
things. Some are great successes, some aren’t. So we’ll see
how it all goes. It depends on what people embrace. That’s
what we’re about: trying new things all the time.”
Being able to recognize what people embrace is part of what
has allowed the Spectrum, which is one of the few independent
art-house theaters remaining in the country, to survive. “We
try to bring in some commercial Hollywood movies,” says Pickard.
“We are hoping when they are watching these movies they [audience
members] are also seeing a preview for an American independent
that hasn’t gotten any promotion, and they think, ‘Hey, maybe
we should check that out.’ We are able to expose new people
to what the Spectrum does, and that’s how we are growing.”
The theater’s cult-film strategy for picking up more of a
youth audience is a different twist on this strategy, bringing
people in initially with notable old movies rather than new
As David Lynch’s frustrating, surrealistic nightmare comes
to its end, the weary crowd shuffles out of the theater, half
dazed. A bearded teen still holding his ticket stub in one
hand pulls a flyer out of his pocket and studies it. “Sweet!
Blade Runner is gonna be here. We’re going!” he announces.
“I don’t know,” his friend responds. “That movie is sort of
weird.” The group erupts in laughter as they walk out into
the chilly morning.
This month the Spectrum will be celebrating its 25th anniversary,
and Pickard says he is thrilled that people are still discovering
still finding out after all these years that there are lots
of people coming in saying, ‘I’ve never been here before.
This is really nice,’ ” he says. “We’re hearing that, and
that’s encouraging. Maybe we still are a secret in the Capital