E.A. Mundkowsky Finishing

Elsie Mundkowsky might not be a conventional finishing-shop owner, but she’s a textbook entrepreneur.

Mundkowsky is self-taught in both business and deburring work. Family photos and a granddaughter’s artwork adorn the walls of her West Springfield business, E.A. Mundkowsky Finishing.

But Mundkowsky’s story is one of a true entrepreneur.

In 1993, as a mother in her 40s, she was looking for some extra money. When her husband brought home some metal pieces that needed filing, she took on the challenge, setting up a station in their garage.

The work was new to her. At first, she says, she looked at those 2,000 pieces and cried. And then she picked up a hand file, figured out the process, and got to work.

“I fell in love with the work,” she says. “I fell in love with the challenges.”

That love – and a passion for the business – pushed her to expand. She used her $83 paycheck from that first filing job to purchase a machine to make the work easier.

She continued to take on work and invest in equipment, eventually outgrowing her garage. She purchased a neighboring plot of land and built a shop, then added on to that facility to accommodate growing orders.

Today, the work has slowed from its heyday in the early 2000s. Mundkowsky is ready to retire, and is interested in finding the right buyer who will build on the business that she is proud to have created.

“I’d like to be able to watch this place keep going from across the yard,” she says.

About E.A. Mundkowsky Finishing: The business specializes in deburring and secondary machining. As Mundkowsky explains, “We don’t make anything. We make it better.” In the shop, we watched as metal pieces were added to a large drum – like a giant washing machine, Mundkowsky said – and were agitated around in tiny ceramic pellets. When they emerged, they were put into a second drum to dry and then were ready to go, smooth and polished. Today, the work is done by Mundkowsky and her husband, down from a staff of about 15 when the shop was at its busiest.

Why Erie County: Mundkowsky sees a lot of benefit in the people of Erie County. “Most people are good people,” she says. And she credits a lot of those good people with helping her along the way as she created, and then expanded, her business.

Challenges of Erie County: Mundkowsky has experienced not just the struggles of running a small business, but the challenges of doing so as a woman. It hasn’t been easy to make a name for herself in a field normally dominated by men, she says.

Fun Fact: Elsie Mundkowsky’s shop is located on land that once was home to another woman-run enterprise. She purchased the land from the great-grandchildren of a woman who used to grow onions in that field.

Address: 14415 West RidgeRoad, West Springfield, PA  16443 or www.eamf.net.

A. Caplan Co.

Anyone who’s driven through Waterford on Route 19 is probably familiar with A. Caplan Co.’s slogan: “If you cook, stop and look!”

As Luke Caplan describes, the slogan was a spur-of-the-moment creation from his father, Aaron, who founded the business in 1981.

The slogan, which now graces the sign of the Waterford Township business, perfectly sums up the draw of the kitchenware store.

On the retail side, at least, the store has become almost a destination of sorts for at-home cooks, Luke Caplan says. In the storefront, all manner of kitchen gadgets and gizmos jockey for space. There are stacks of gleaming silver pots, rows of coordinating china, racks of spoons and spatulas for any purpose.  There is also a collection of vintage items, including quirky or collectible kitchen tools and serving pieces reminding shoppers of days gone by.

But the retail side only represents about half of what the business does. A. Caplan Co. also serves commercial kitchens, supplying equipment to restaurants, taverns, schools, clubs and churches. That equipment, which A. Caplan Co. sells both new and used, runs the gamut: Huge commercial ovens and refrigerators, stainless steel sinks for proper sanitation, other devices like rice cookers, bread slicers, mixers and meat grinders.

The business has evolved over the years into its current form, with the Caplans tacking on extra room as needs required. They’ve grown slowly but steadily over the years, Luke Caplan says – and that was the intention. “Dad never was in it to make a ton of money,” he says. “Just to make a living.”

Today, that living supports a second generation of Caplans – Luke and his brother, James, as well as 10 other dedicated employees – and has carved out a comfortable niche for itself in Erie County. Even so, the Caplans are cognizant of their main competition – the Internet – and have had to make their mark as a unique presence.

“We know we have to get out there and sell the experience,” Luke Caplan says, “and sell ourselves.”

About A. Caplan Co.: Aaron Caplan started his business in the former Dog N Suds, and the drive-in’s old awning remains. Today, the commercial side of the business serves customers in a fairly wide radius, serving customers as far south as Pittsburgh and delving into eastern Ohio and western New York. The retail side of the business has been bolstered by a nationwide trend of home cooking, evidenced by the variety of cooking shows and competitions. In addition to supplying equipment, the business offers services as well – including installing equipment, advising customers on kitchen layout, and even professional knife sharpening.

Why Erie County: A trend in Erie County to support locally owned restaurants has proved beneficial to A. Caplan Co., Luke Caplan says. In addition, A. Caplan Co. enjoys a good relationship with other restaurant equipment dealers in the county. “There’s a camaraderie” in their industry, he says.

Challenges of Erie County: As previously mentioned, one of A. Caplan Co.’s biggest challenges as a retailer is from the Internet, in the form of online shopping. However, the company also sees challenges here at home, particularly when it comes to attempts to expand the business. The company might have the resources to expand, but not necessarily the time or money to invest in the process – including permitting – that must be undertaken before the expansion can actually take place, Luke Caplan says. The obstacles can be disheartening, he says, for a company that is trying to grow.

Fun fact: Luke Caplan might just be destined to work in the restaurant supply business. His father’s parents were in the restaurant equipment business, long before his father opened A. Caplan Co. And his mother recently found a paper from his elementary school days that revealed his childhood hopes for this future. “It said, ‘When I grow up I want to sell restaurant equipment,’” Luke Caplan says with a laugh.

Address: 12607 U.S. Route 19, Waterford, PA 16441 or www.caplancookware.com.

Locust Grove Nursery

Greg Fuhrer tells a story that illustrates the deep roots of his family’s business, Locust Grove Nursery.

He was working in a field recently alongside son Doug, who also works at the nursery. “You realize,” he told his son, “that we’re doing just what my dad and granddad did.”

Greg Fuhrer and his wife, Sharon, started Locust Grove back in the 1980s, selling mums from roadside stands. As customers began requesting different kinds of plants, the Fuhrers took the initiative and started growing new varieties to meet the needs.

Today, they’ve gotten out of the retail business and now work as a wholesaler, supplying plants to landscapers, schools and garden centers. But the business remains firmly in the Fuhrer family, with several family members intrinsically involved in the operations.

More family members work at the business, including another of Greg and Sharon’s sons, Jason, who is Locust Grove’s co-owner. He sometimes takes his own son, 5-year-old Caleb, along for the ride when he makes deliveries. “He’s getting to know the customers,” Jason says.

The strong family connection is apparent as Greg and Jason show us around the business – and so is the pride they take in their work.

The Fuhrers grow 45,000 to 60,000 plants – including trees, shrubs, perennials and bedding plants – across their 13 acres in Waterford Township. Nearby, they lease 14 acres from a neighbor to grow arborvitae and boxwood.

They make their own potting soil, taking care to ensure a proper level of nutrients. They try to be earth friendly, using coconut husk for weed control.

And above all, they try to serve the needs of their customers – following the same drive that expanded their business from a small roadside stand. They study trends and keep tabs on what customers will be looking for. The latest trend, they have found, is edible landscapes, like berry bushes and herb gardens.

For Locust Grove Nursery, change is necessary – changing seasons, changing customers, changing plants. What remains constant, though, is the dedicated family behind the business.

About Locust Grove Nursery: The business has four full-time employees and a handful of part-time workers – often high school students. The nursery, which primarily serves customers around northwestern Pennsylvania but also in neighboring areas of New York and Ohio, is strict about sticking to the wholesale business and not selling to the general public. If the general public asks to buy plants, the Fuhrers refer them to one of the local garden centers that they supply. Locust Grove does not sell to big box stores.

Why Erie County: The Fuhrers say they enjoy having their business in a place like Erie County, which is a welcoming home for their multigenerational family. They also enjoy the family-friendly atmosphere in general, and they see Lake Erie as an enormous asset for the county. In addition, they find that at least in their business, there is a strong support network. They have good relationships with other nurseries in Erie County, and even help each other out. If Locust Grove doesn’t have something a customer is looking for, the Fuhrers will send the customer to a competitor – just as the other nurseries will send customers to Locust Grove.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that Locust Grove faces are just part of the nature of their business – literally. They constantly work to keep deer, rabbits and woodchucks from eating their plants. And they also grapple with the most unpredictable challenge, the weather. They work outside as long as they can, until the snow flies. And over the winter months, they propagate plants, service equipment, and rest up for spring, and the launch of their busy seasons. In addition, they see Erie County’s distance from the state capital as a challenge. Officials in Harrisburg sometimes forget about this corner of the state, the Fuhrers say – so it is up to Erie County residents and businesses to keep fighting to get recognition.

Fun fact: The Fuhrers start about 80 percent of their plants themselves, either from seeds or cuttings. They are not permitted to start some patented plants.

Address: 2291 Old State Rd, Waterford, PA 16441 or www.locustgroveplants.com

Hoffman Industrial

Hoffman Industrial is in the business of moving things.

It’s fitting, then, that the company is continuing to move forward, even with a 171-year tradition in Erie.

Hoffman was founded in 1846 by using horses to move houses. As manufacturing rapidly advanced in the industrial age, however, the company leveraged its rigging and moving skills and moved into machinery. Today, Hoffman Industrial – the oldest rigging and machinery moving company in the United States – no longer moves houses, instead focusing on the specialty skills of moving heavy and hulking pieces of machinery with a deliberate and even delicate touch.

President and owner Art Hammond, who bought the westside Erie business about three and a half years ago, is focused on ensuring that his company is the best at what it does, and that it has a strong – and satisfied – customer base to prove it.

He’s working to build that base by promoting the advantages of Hoffman Industrial – emphasizing that Hoffman workers have the equipment, the experience and the proper insurance to safely move big machinery.

It’s dangerous work, he points out, and it’s not for amateurs. There are angles and math calculations to figure out, and new circumstances with every job. “There’s so much to worry about,” Hammond says. “You have to have patience.”

Hoffman Industrial has further been investing in its equipment and in its employees – making sure workers have necessary training and skills – and has touted that experience in efforts to increase business.

Hammond has added some advertising and is working to expand the marketing and online reach – “We realize that even with a niche business like rigging and machinery moving, an online presence is essential for growth,” he says – and he’s also making sure his employees know of the company’s efforts.

A sign in the employee breakroom spells out the company’s philosophy fairly clearly: “Hoffman Industrial Co. will only employ and promote people who support and satisfy customers.” And upstairs, in a small office, a list hanging on the wall keeps a running tally of new businesses added so far this year – more than a dozen to date.

With so much activity, it’s clear that this moving business is not content to stand still.

About Hoffman Industrial: The company, with 11 workers, has a mix of seasoned and younger employees. Hoffman sends younger workers out for training and certification, since the rigging work is dangerous, and a strong skillset is imperative to employee safety. The company serves businesses in about a 250-mile radius of Erie, largely focusing on manufacturing but also serving other industries, including health care. Here in Erie County, Hoffman is the approved primary rigging company for GE Transportation.

Why Erie County: Hammond sees a lot of positives in Erie County, including its livability. He also says that Erie County still has a strong manufacturing presence – which is essential for businesses like his. When manufacturing is robust, he says, manufacturers “do a lot with their money. They invest in new machines.” And when that happens, Hoffman Industrial is there to move out the old machines and move in the new ones.

Challenges of Erie County: Hammond does, however, say that it is vital that Erie County shore up its manufacturing sector to help stave off future decline. “We have to grow the manufacturing base so that ancillary businesses like us grow. Anything that hurts manufacturing hurts us,” he says. In addition, Hammond would like to see a greater effort from Erie County companies in supporting local businesses. “Nothing irks me worse than an Erie company hiring an out-of-Erie company,” he says.

Fun fact: Hammond is only the second owner of the company to have come from outside the Hoffman family.

Address: 1510 Irwin Drive, Erie, PA 16505 or www.hoffmanindustrial.com

Rudy’s Shoe Repair

In a small corner storefront on the City of Erie’s west side, Rudy Rodriguez is doing more than repairing shoes – he’s living the American dream.

The El Salvador native and his wife, Adriana, have run Rudy’s Shoe Repair since 2015 – a decade after Rudy came to the United States.

His path to becoming a business owner is, as Adriana describes, “quite providential.”

After experiencing problems with his feet, he saw a local podiatrist and then was referred to Walk Rite, a local store that offers footwear and other services for people with foot problems. There, with the help of Walk Rite owner Nathaniel Zimmerman, Rudy started training to learn how to make custom orthotics – and thus the dream began.

“As soon as I started training, I just fell in love with it,” says Rudy, who worked as a tailor in El Salvador. “I saw so much potential.”

Soon, he was working full-time out of the Walk Rite shop, filling a need for shoe repair in Erie.

Before long, Rudy’s Shoe Repair expanded into its own space, at the corner of West 26th and Myrtle streets.

Since then, business has been steadily growing, mostly by word of mouth.

Now, looking around the workshop, crowded with shoes in for repair, Rudy and Adriana see another possible move in their future – an expansion of their successful enterprise to a larger storefront, maybe one with living space above for their family.

When asked if he ever expected to be an entrepreneur – “empresario,” or businessman, as Adriana explained in Spanish – Rudy’s answer is clear: Never. He never pictured himself owning his own business.

But now, with his shop doing a steady business by filling a niche in Erie, perhaps he has realized a dream he never knew he had.

About Rudy’s Shoe Repair: Though the shop started out by only repairing shoes, now they take on all manner of leather products – purses, jackets, luggage, belts, saddles, even furniture. The workshop features a mix of old equipment, picked up secondhand, and new machines that the owners have invested in. As business has grown, so has the need for help. As a result, Rudy’s is no longer a one-man operation. Though Adriana also works a full-time job, she also helps out at the shop, and they also have two part-time employees. Rudy’s Shoe Repair also recently joined the Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership.

Why Erie County: Rudy and Adriana both say that Erie County – and its people – have been very good to them. That includes the training and guidance Rudy received in starting the business, and it carries through today, when they exchange referrals with other local businesses and rely on a network of mentors to help them as they continue to learn the trade. In addition, they have found it is simply a good place to raise their two children, ages 2 and 6. “A lot of people say there is not much in Erie – but there is. You just have to look a little, and you’ll find great things,” Rudy says.

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that Rudy’s Shoe Repair faces are not unique to the county, or unique to shoe repair. Rather, it’s the burden of any small business owner who wears many hats – greeting and helping customers, filling orders, doing the finances, etc. In addition, Rudy says he works hard to adjust to the differences in culture and language that distinguish his new home from his native country.

Address: 263 W. 26th St., Erie PA 16508 or www.rudysshoerepair.com

 

Coming up next week: We visit Hoffman Industrial, the oldest rigging company in the United States.

 

American Cruising Sails

Anyone who’s ever gazed from our shores during the summertime can see that Erie loves its sailing – and, as a result, has a market for sailmaking.

Several years ago, a group of entrepreneurial-minded local sailors decided to fill that niche, and American Cruising Sails was born.

As two of those founders – company president AJ Miceli and general manager Kim Yamma – showed me around their workshop recently, it was evident that they are not just knowledgeable about the wind and the water, but are dedicated to their craft.

“Erie has a fine tradition of local sailmakers, and we hope to be the next generation,” AJ said.

American Cruising Sails has been in business since 2014, benefitting from both mentorship and referrals from longtime Erie sailmaker Dave Bierig.

Now that their reputation is growing, with orders coming both locally and online, they are looking to grow – eventually hoping to add an additional staff member as well as looking for a larger physical space.

Currently, they are located in the basement of a building on West Eighth Street in the City of Erie – a space that, interestingly enough, once housed another local startup, Erie.net. The location served the needs of the early days of American Cruising Sails, but now they are looking for room to grow.

In the existing space, a giant, 28-foot table nearly fills the workroom. As crisp white material runs the length of it, passing under the busy needle of the sewing machine, it is clear why a table of such size is warranted – and, when hearing about a recent order for a 52-foot sail, why an even larger table is desired.

The room hosts more than sewing – a chalkboard details new orders, and a computer helps with the design and plotting. Across the table from where Kim operates the sewing machine, AJ works on cutting out shapes that will be pieced together.

Elsewhere in the space, bags of sails are ready for repair or, when finished, delivery to customers. New rolls of canvas await their future as new sails. And a small display showcases the Vela line – totebags, pillows, placemats and even Christmas stockings – repurposed from retired sails.

Though a small operation, American Cruising Sails is committed to providing the best service for their customers – something that big-business competitors, whose products are often made in Sri Lanka or China, can’t touch.

“We’re sailors,” Kim says. “We know what we would want in a sail.”

About American Cruising Sales: The company’s small staff is still made up of the four original owners – AJ and Kim, along with vice president Mark Platteter and partner Rosemary Briggs. Like with any startup, the partners began by chipping away at the work on evenings and weekends, before eventually transitioning AJ and Kim to full time. Mark and Rosemary still work at the business part-time. Though about 85 percent of American Cruising Sails’ work is local, they’re also growing their national footprint, having shipped sails to Texas, Florida, Maryland, Vermont and elsewhere.

Why Erie County: A sailmaking business is, of course, a perfect fit for Erie County, with its miles of shoreline and natural bay. But in addition, American Cruising Sales’ owners say they see plenty of potential for their business in Erie County. “We see nothing but opportunities in Erie County,” A.J. says, with Kim adding, “We’re big fans.”

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that American Cruising Sails faces are universal among small startups – not enough hours in the day, the owners say. But the owners are also seeing a challenging in finding a new space for their loft. They are looking for something of the right size, at the right cost, that is convenient to the bay.

Fun fact: A sailmaking workshop is known as a loft – even if, as in American Cruising Sails’ case, the shop is located in a basement.

About: 1640 W. Eighth St., Erie PA 16505 or www.americancruisingsails.com

Burton Funeral Homes & Crematory

My recent visit to Burton Funeral Homes  & Crematory revealed how the business has embraced both tradition and change.

The tradition aspect is readily apparent in the owners, who represent the fifth generation of the Burton family to run the business. The business was founded in 1876, and there are now four Burton locations around the county. The location that we visited, on West 10th Street in the City of Erie, is located in a historic building that has been home to Burton since the 1950s.

As Karen Burton Horstman spoke about the business, however, it became clear that it is now as much about changing times as it is about that deep-rooted family tradition.

The business has adjusted to meet the expectations of modern customers. That might mean offering more ways to personalize a funeral service – including through things like specialized casket accents, a unique urn, or a custom memorial. They’re also keeping an eye on new technology that other funeral homes have used to personalize funeral services.

And, in addition, they find themselves changing to fit contemporary sensibilities – which sometimes treat the grieving process differently than previous generations.

“We’re becoming a less traditional society,” Horstman says. “People are not valuing funeral services the way they used to.”

Burton has also adjusted the business by offering services that people are valuing – including memorials and pet loss services.

For any aspect of the funeral business, Horstman emphasizes the importance of the grieving process. In fact, that’s one of the aspects of the business that she finds to be the most important. As she explains, the death of a loved one is one of the life events that has the most impact on a person.

“People ask me, ‘How do you stand this work?’” she says. “I tell them that you’re helping someone through the worst time of their life. It’s very sad, but it’s also very rewarding.”

About Burton Funeral Homes & Crematory: In addition to the main location on West 10th Street in Erie, Burton operates funeral homes on West 26th Street and on Norcross Road in Millcreek Township, and on Main Street in Girard. The funeral home employs 40-some employees, almost equally split between part-time and full-time. Burton had one of the first crematories in the area, opening its crematory at the West 10th Street facility in the 1980s.

Why Erie County: Clearly, Burton has strong roots in Erie County. And the owners see that as a distinct advantage. “We have been here a long time, so our name has a good reputation,” Horstman says. But she also emphasized that Erie County is a desirable place to live. As she describes, it has big-city assets without being a big city, while also offering advantages like the natural environment and affordable housing.

Challenges of Erie County: Horstman describes a need for a regional view in Erie County, pointing to her experience of operating businesses both inside the City of Erie and in the outlying areas. As she explains, the City of Erie is home to all manner of nonprofits and services that pay no taxes, limiting the tax base – but residents of other Erie County municipalities also use those services. She sees reginonalism as a possible solution to revitalizing the city and its public schools. “If you don’t have schools, you don’t attract people,” she says. “And then how do I stay in business?”

Fun fact: Burton was founded by A.P. Burton, the son of a shipbuilder who helped construct Oliver Hazard Perry’s War of 1812 fleet.

Address: 602 W. 10th St., Erie, PA 16502 or www.burtonfuneralhomes.com

Curtze Food Service

During the daytime hours, Curtze Food Service hums with activity. Warehouse workers steer forklifts among towering shelves, and seafood cutters keep busy slicing into fresh fish.

But the real action starts after normal business hours, when that hum turns into a hubbub.

The warehouse staff hustles to fill orders as delivery trucks rumble in, ready to be filled up and sent on their way, whisking Curtze customers’ orders to points across an eight-state area.

On a recent tour during a relatively quiet afternoon, company President Bruce Kern gestures to a line of 10 bay doors.

“These doors will open and close five times a night” as trucks pull in, says Bruce, who runs the family business with his brother, company Vice President Scott Kern. The warehouse operates round-the-clock during the week to fulfill orders for grocery items, produce, fresh seafood and more.

The efficient, streamlined operation is quite a change from the company that started back in 1878, when an enterprising Curtze ancestor launched a wholesale business to serve the oil drillers and lumber camps that populated northwestern Pennsylvania.

Today, the company – now run by the fifth generation of Curtze descendents – operates three distribution centers (in Erie, Cleveland and Rochester, New York) and utilizes a fleet of 125 refrigerated trucks to serve about 8,500 customers.

And, as Bruce Kern says simply, “We’re growing.”

About Curtze Food Service: The company, which distributes all manner of food and food service equipment – everything but alcoholic beverages, the Kerns say – specializes in “center of the plate” products like hand-cut fresh seafood and meat. The company also distributes fresh produce, some of which comes from growers in the Erie region. All told, Curtze employs between 650 and 700 employees – around 270 of those in Erie County.

Why Erie County: The company’s roots long predate the Kerns, but they seem content with their company’s home. “I’m not one of these guys who is down on his hometown. I happen to think we have a lot going on in Erie,” Bruce Kern says. In addition, Curtze Food Services has found valuable resources in local organizations like the Manufacturer & Business Association and the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership.

Challenges of Erie County: The biggest challenges facing Curtze Food Service come from location – both at a local level and, more broadly, at a regional level. The company’s current footprint, as Scott Kern describes, “is not a perfect fit” – surrounding properties have the company penned in, preventing expansion at its eastside Erie site. As it is, the company’s specialty meat-cutting facility is down the street from the main office and warehouse. In addition, situating a distribution center on a lake shore has its own set of challenges – namely, that it restricts distribution to a swath of territory to the north.

Fun fact: Curtze’s meat cutters must complete an 18-month apprentice program.

Address: 171 E. 12th St., Erie, PA 16511 or www.curtze.com

Rosebud Flower Shop

The family roots run deep at Rosebud Flower Shop – not just for the florist business, but for its location, at the corner of East 10th and Reed streets on the City of Erie’s east side.

Ruth Thompson’s family has been located at that corner for generations. Her father, the late Erie City Councilman Jim Thompson, started the flower shop nearly 60 years ago, eventually moving it into the East 10th Street location that had previously been home to other family businesses.

Today, Ruth, who also runs the ANNA Shelter and a property management company, is gradually passing the flower shop business on to her daughter, Rosealena Thompson.

Rosealena has been part of the business since she helped out as a child.

Back then, she came up with her own flower arrangements that her mom displayed in the shop – though they were, as Ruth laughingly describes now, “hideous.”

Today, however, Rosealena’s arrangements are colorful and creative – and are boosting business.

She’s also been marketing the business on social media, and making connections in the community.

“Maybe she’s found her niche,” Ruth says of her daughter.

For Ruth, it’s a comfort to see her daughter embrace the business that has been in the family for more than 50 years – in a building that was built by the family in the 1800s.

“Just the idea of someone else having this – the idea of closing it was so hard,” Ruth says.

About Rosebud Flower Shop: The family had previously owned other businesses, including a general store and a hardware shop, at the East 10th Street building. Though the flower shop used to get walk-in traffic, especially in the heyday of GE and Hammermill, today the majority of sales are made online. Other family members join Ruth and Rosealena at the shop, including Ruth’s mother, JoAn, and several siblings. “People say they have a family business. This, literally, is our family’s business,” Ruth says.

Why Erie County: The family’s roots are, of course, vital to why Ruth Thompson remains anchored in Erie – and, more specifically, remains committed to the city’s lower east side. “I can’t imagine leaving this corner,” she says. “I’ve had several opportunities. But this place is our roots.” She also sees continued support from Erie residents in supporting small businesses. “Flowers are a luxury. Same with eating out. People say how horrible the economy is, but people are still buying flowers, and people are still going out to eat,” she says.

Challenges of Erie County: Ruth Thompson’s biggest challenges should be familiar to any small-business owner – trying to juggle all the work that needs to be done. Trying to do the jobs of several people – a necessity for a small business – means that some aspects of the business inevitably get the short shrift.

Address: 660 E. 10th St., Erie, PA 16503 or www.rosebudflowershop.com

 

Coming next week: We check out the operations at Curtze Food Service, also in the City of Erie

 

A. Anthony & Sons

During my visit to A. Anthony & Sons Inc., one thing that stood out to me is the company’s dedication to tradition.

That tradition is evident in the framed photos of earlier generations hanging on the wall of an office.

But there’s also a much, much older tradition to consider – one that dates back centuries.

After all, as company Vice President John Rahner describes, A. Anthony’s concrete mixing follows some of the same essential principles that were established in Roman times.

That includes using Lake Erie sand and crushed limestone from quarries in Michigan and Canada in the concrete mix, in order to guarantee a better product. River/field stone is cheaper, Rahner says, but it’s not as good in our climate for longevity.

The focus on quality is something that the current owners – the fourth generation of the Anthony family – learned from the earlier generations. Rahner’s wife, Peggy Anthony Rahner, is the company president, and other branches of the family are represented as well.

Their Anthony ancestors started the business as a small operation in 1939, and grew the business by adding the batch plant in 1972. That purchase, though originally done out of necessity to get the concrete transported to sites in Erie, proved to be a successful enterprise that continues to boost the company.

Today’s owners still face challenges, including the unpredictable weather that all-too-often dictates the concrete placement schedule. But overall, the Rahners say they are content with their company, and with a business that allows them to create a tangible product for their customers.

“You want a business where at the end of the day, you can say, ‘That was a good day,’” John Rahner says. “And there’s a lot of good days.”

About A. Anthony & Sons: The company, which employs 37 in a full season, operates a ready-mix division, which brings in roughly the same amount of business as concrete placement. The company consumes most of the mix it produces. The majority of the company’s business is in commercial and construction work, though they also do residential work and new building. Some of their work can be seen around the community, including at the Prep and Villa Events Center, the Hagen History Center, and the fountain in Perry Square.

Why Erie County: The business has found a secure footing in the Erie economy. Residents are still investing money in their properties, the Rahners said, In addition, they anticipate an uptick in business as a result of some of the large-scale construction projects cropping up in the county. While the larger concrete firms will likely bid on those big projects, some of the residual work will trickle down to A. Anthony & Sons. Beyond that, the Rahners say, are the characteristics that are unique to Erie. “I’ve lived other places, and you just can’t duplicate the quality of life here anywhere else,” John Rahner says. “And everyone knows your name,” Peggy Rahner adds.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that A. Anthony faces have more to do with the nature of the work than anything else. The work requires physical labor, and that can wear on employees – some of whom have been doing that hard work with the company for decades. Efforts to find young, willing workers have been mixed. In addition, the company has found it challenging to work with a bevy of regulations – some on the municipal level, dealing with issues like permits and storm water management, all the way up to agency regulations on the state andfederal levels.

Address: 1450 W. 21st St., Erie PA 16502 or www.anthonyconcrete.com

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