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photo:Shannon DeCelle

Bad Luck Is a Temporary Thing
By Stephen Leon

Facing a sudden interruption, a local business goes into survival mode—and comes out stronger

Friday 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 vacuums.”

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 anywhere else.”

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.”

Disaster Resources for Small Businesses

Though 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.

Books

A Primer for Disaster Recovery Planning in an IT Environment by Charlotte J. Hiatt (Idea Group Publishing)

Business Continuity Planning Methodology by Akhtar Syed (Sentryx)

Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide by Donna R. Childs and Stefan Dietrich (Wiley)

The 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 (Amakom)

Disaster Recovery Planning: Strategies for Protecting Critical Information Assets by Jon William Toigo (Prentice Hall PTR)

Enterprise Risk Assessment and Business Impact Analysis: Best Practices by Andrew Hiles (Rothstein Associates)

Web sites

American 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.

Institute 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 practices.”

National 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.

Ready Business, www.ready.gov/business/index

A resource from the Department of Homeland Security to help your small business recover from anything—from a terrorist attack to a tornado.

United States Small Business Administration, www.sba.gov/disaster_recov/index

Provides local resources, counseling programs and ways to apply for SBA disaster loan assistance.


photo:Alicia Solsman

Cult Classics, Coffee, and Cinephiles
By David King

 

Twenty-five years into its successful run, the locally owned Spectrum Theatre continues to adapt to changing business conditions with new ideas for new audiences

It’s 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,” agrees Keegan.

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 crowd.

“That 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.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Judging 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 work.”

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 commercial ones.

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 his theater.

“We’re 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 District.”

dking@metroland.net


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