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Monthly Archives: July 2017

NBP Member Interview Series Featuring William Dee

Written by Rachel Nolte  • July 31, 2017

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 Editor’s Note: The Northside Business Partnership (NBP) is an association comprised of Northside businesses, property owners, and organizations. It serves as an advocate group for the Northside, strengthening the vitality of the business community by connecting, engaging, and promoting its members. NBP is administrated by NEHDA.

 

 

 

 

Bill is the president of Sinclair & Andrews, an insurance agency founded in 1932. Sinclair & Andrews has been a proud Northside Business Partnership member since 2014 and Bill serves on the Board of Directors. Keep reading to find out advice, predictions, and dreams of an insurance agent!

 

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Q: Have you always lived in Syracuse?

Bill: Yes.

 

Q: On the Northside specifically?

Bill: I grew up on Westvale and I went to Westhill. My junior year of high school, I started working, I got a job at Williams, a grocery store in Fairmount. At that time I was driving my parents’ car and I wanted to get my own car and I started to discover money. I was on the golf team in the fall and the baseball team in the spring but I stopped playing sports ‘cause I signed up for a work study program. My job at Williams would continue on and I got credit for it through the school. The head of the business department would come and meet with the supervisor once a month to see how I was doing and do a report. So that’s when I really began to love work, when I was at Westhill.

 

Q: So how did you get into this line of work?

Bill: It was a series of jobs for me. When I went to Le Moyne College, I worked buildings and grounds during the school year, and then when I was on break and it got busy at UPS around Christmas time for those five weeks, I would work loading trucks there. And then every summer I was in college, I would get a job. My first summer was the Onondaga County Highway Department in Marcellus, my second summer was the New York State Thruway Authority in DeWitt, and then my third summer was Miller Brewing Company in Fulton. It was a great job, great pay, long hours but very well paid, a lot of overtime, and three free cases of beer a week.

 

Q: Can’t argue with that. What did you study in college?

Bill: Business administration at Le Moyne College and a minor in economics and a concentration in marketing.

 

Q: And how did you decide what to study?

Bill: I just knew I liked business, just from my work experience. When I graduated college in 1982, I think unemployment was at about 12% then. So I took the first job that was offered to me, which was Assistant Manager in K-mart in Geneva and I worked there for a year. Then I switched—I love being around people and I love being social but I wanted to try sales so I worked for a P. Lorillard company which owned tobacco products, like Newport, Old Gold, Kent, True, and I helped do the advertising on the billboards around here, and marketing in the stores. Back then, you could advertise. I did that for four years and it was a fun job. I got to see the terrain around here. I covered down in Ithaca, and within about a one mile radius, but I knew that the future wasn’t going to be in tobacco. This is before everything got outlawed of course, but I wanted a job where I knew that if I worked hard, you know I could help other people and make more money. So my roommate from college, Greg Dunn, had been in insurance right out of college. Russ Andrews and Avery Sinclair who owned this agency asked him if he wanted to join them and do property casualties as well as life insurance. He said no, he really wanted to stay just doing the life insurance. But he said, he called me to see if I wanted to do it, so I said sure! I’ll do it. So Greg referred me to Avery and Russel and that was thirty years ago. So I’ve been here ever since.

 

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Q: What do you like about it?

Bill: I like the interaction with all the customers, helping people out. I like the freedom. I make my own hours, and I have a great staff that allows me to come and go in and out of the office.

 

Q: Did the skills that you learned through your various jobs, did they translate nicely into this line of work or did you have to learn a lot on the job?

Bill: Well, I had to get licensed. So I got licensed, and then I went through—the first year I worked here—I went through the Aetna Prime Agent Program, which covered training me in personal lines, which is auto and home owner’s, life insurance, and also small commercial insurance. So I went to the Aetna Institute in Hartford, Connecticut probably about four or five times my first year, for training. And then there was local training here, for the Aetna offices.

 

Q: Your website lists various types of insurance that we consider fairly standard, such as auto, homeowners, and business. It also lists less traditional types of insurance, such as wedding and recreational vehicle. What markets do you think insurance will be expanding into in the future?

Bill: Right now, cyber. Cyber liability, which would cover an office, not only if they got hacked into their computers and got private data information, such as social security numbers, dates of births and all that, but also it would cover for data breach, it would cover to pay for all the expenses that company would have to go through to notify all their customers, and then to provide free credit monitoring and all that. It would also cover paper files, if somebody came in and stole paper files out of a doctor’s office or an insurance office.

 

Q: Is that standard or required for doctor’s offices to have currently?

Bill: No, but in the future, it may be required for companies to do businesses with other companies. Like if one company wants to come in and do some IT work, the company they’re doing business with might say, we want you to provide us with proof you’ve got a cyber policy in case something goes wrong when you’re doing work for us.

 

Q: How does the Northside location of Sinclair & Andrews affect the business?

Bill: Well, it’s a great location for us because I can be in any town in this county in ten minutes because 690 and 81 are right here, right at the intersection of it all…I’m also a general partner of 306 Hawley Ave. Associates, which is separate from Sinclair & Andrews. Sinclair & Andrews rents space from 306 Hawley Ave. . .It was built in 1874 and it originally had someone who owned a brewery here, there was actually four of these houses in a row, now there’s three—bought it, one for each daughter.

 

Q: If somebody was thinking of going into insurance, what advice would you give them?

Bill: Nothing’s’ changed since I started. You just have to be social, you have to be—you can’t be aggressive, but you have to ask. You have to ask for the sale. You have to ask people how their insurance is going, if they want to review it. Things like that. You gotta have an “A” personality.

 

Q: That’s all the questions that I have—

Bill: Well, you have to ask me that one question that you asked Dave [Bill is referring to this interview I did with the Vice President of the Dominick Falcone Agency].

 

Q: Which one was that?

Bill: What would I like to insure.

 

Q: Oh, okay. What would you like to insure?

Bill: The Empire State Building!

 

Q: Okay, and why?

Bill: Because it’s iconic. Everybody knows the Empire State Building.

 

To learn more about Sinclair & Andrews, visit their website

World Refugee Day: Community Orientation Highlights

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • July 27, 2017

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Last month, InterFaith Works organized a Community Orientation, featuring a conversation between Abdul Saboor (a refugee from Afghanistan who oversees the Match Grant Program at InterFaith Works) and Dominic Robinson (our Vice President of Economic Inclusion at CenterState CEO) and a panel discussion with a variety of service providers in our community. Guests enjoyed refreshments as they learned more about the refugee experience and the ways citizens can help support New Americans in Syracuse.

 

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Quotes from ABDUL SABOOR

“When you go from being detached from your home, from your country, from the place where you built your dreams on, when you go to leave those places, it’s not easy. It’s something that I personally wish for no one. But, this is a journey, and this is something that I had to make in order to survive, in order for us to continue our dreams. This was a very, very rough transition. Grass root agencies such as InterFaith Works, Catholic Charities, ARISE, and others who are willing to accept and to do the resettlement at the grassroots level, are the ones who are actually going to welcome these families from the airport, from the housing, to making their appointments, to getting an ID card, a benefit cards, and helping and establishing a life, jobsyou can name it and every step of that process is easier said than done.

It requires a lot of effort and it is not the job of the resettlement agency alone. It takes a neighborhood, it takes a community. I don’t think InterFaith itself alone could do the resettlement work that they’re doing right now if it wasn’t for community support . . .  Because I lived there, I can see how society, the pillars of our communities are not based on the individual. It depends on all of us . . .  We do it hand-to-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder with those individuals and we try to make sure they succeed because their success is our success. And by ‘we’ meaning us as a community, as Syracuse. Because if they struggle, we struggle.”

 

“When I first arrived, I had 3, 4 priorities that I had to establish. First thing was I had to get a job. Becoming self-sufficient in a place where I had no friends at that time in my life was a number one priority. . . But, this life was not about me only. I had a wife, so, building a family, making sure that my family accepts the new neighborhood we’re going to live in as home . . .  Bombs, and kidnappings are no longer the impressions that we have to worry about. Survival no longer becomes a question. I’m a special case. [As an English-speaker] I had the ability to speak and communicate and break all my frustrations out, and sit down to someone like Dominic and InterFaith Works and complain about all the challenges I’m facing—my wife didn’t have anyone. And it goes along to the many, many hundreds of women and men and childrens who are coming into our doors. While you have so much to say, you can’t say it.

 

“Next time you visit Destiny Mall. There’s a lot of Cubans that are in Destiny Mall right now. They’re just living in those shadows, but I’ll be honest with you – if you do get the chance to say ‘hello,’ and you have the opportunity to ask him about his background, I will almost guarantee that everyone of those guys were either a nurse or a doctor. So, by just excepting that they’re going to start from zero, a jump that a majority of us would not take—becoming a janitor and going to Destiny Mall. But, they happily do it because it provides them income. But yet, they take off that doctor hat and they accept the janitor hat. . . . If you get the first job it will get you going, so that you can get the second job, you can get the third job, and eventually end up exactly where you come from.”

 

Dominic

Quotes from DOMINIC ROBINSON

I was really enamored with the idea of neighborhood-level work. Thinking, if we could community organize, we can get neighbors to work together, that’s kind of the currency of all good social change . . . I happen to be a white male who grew up with an upper-middle class background. You know, I drew the longest straw possible in our world. But, I think the dynamics that I was interacting with were all part of this larger system of inequality that we’re all trying to work against. So, it’s kind of a matter of saying, ‘Okay, I’m working in a community that has a lot of refugees,’ but I think the underlining principle is the same:  there are people across our country, across our community who have the answers, who have the ability and the power within them to change their communities, to live good, productive lives, to provide for their families and for whatever reason, they face barriers to that. And so, I think the organizing theory in this work for me over the years, is always trying to build better systems to allow that self-empowerment to be possible . . . Get out of the way. Let business owners take hold, let people enter into leadership positions within their workforce, and not try to be too forceful for what it means to help, but rather create the tools and vehicles that allow that to be possible.”

“When facts don’t sink in, I think we have to tell stories. I’ve had the luxury you know, these past years, of experiences where you’ve talked about the resiliency, you talk about the people who keep putting one foot in front of the next, in front of the next and all of those challenges, all of that gut-wrenching, soul-sucking amount of work that it takes just to flee political persecution to come here, to start a new life, to go to work oftentimes in a place that is far below your skill set, but to do it because you have to put food on your table—whatever it is. I would just ask, ‘Why wouldn’t you want that person in your community?’ And, when we also know that there is a net economic contribution that in fact the more productive we are, the more jobs there are. We’re not taking jobs away. When a group of people are creating an impact, more jobs come. There’s actually a scarcity mindset that is far too prevalent now, that we have to hoard all the opportunity, when in fact, if we only welcome people, we create a reality of abundance. I think that’s the story we have to do a better job of telling.”  

 

Panel

 

The Community Orientation ended with a panel representing many of the service agencies who help refugees transition to life in Syracuse. To begin, Beth Broadway, Executive Director at InterFaith Works, introduced the panel and stressed the importance of each role these organizations play in refugee resettlement: “We know that ecosystems are best when they are diverse. And when that diversity is lost . . . it makes it very vulnerable. And resilience in that ecosystem is reduced and that is making it ultimately endangered. The same is true for our human family. That when our human family is not diverse, the system is not as resilient and we are endangered at that point. We recognize . . . that to do refugee resettlement work, it’s an ecosystem that requires many different parts. And if the parts are diverse and require many different way of interacting and providing support, we will be stronger for that.”

The panel included Christina Costello, Director of Health Services at Catholic Charities; Janet Lenkiewicz, Income Maintenance Specialist at Onondaga County Department of Social Services – Economic Security; Jacki Leroy, Director of ENL Services at the Syracuse City School District; Shelly Tsai, Staff Attorney at Legal Services of CNY; and Khadija Muse, Bridging Case Manager and Women’s Empowerment Program Director at ARISE. Participants talked about their own experiences working with the refugee community and answered some questions from the audience.

The Orientation was followed by a World Refugee Day celebration with music, presentations, and food at Dr. Weeks Elementary School. To learn more about the days’ events, check out this photo gallery from Syracuse.com and some of the photos and videos posted by InterFaith Works on Facebook.

There are many ways you can get involved with the refugee community in Syracuse. Abdul suggests talking with volunteer coordinators at InterFaith Works and Catholic Charities to volunteer your time or donatea variety of different items to their programs. If you’d like InterFaith Works to come talk to your church or civic group, reach out to info@interfaithworkscny.org.

Photo Friday: Instagram Takeover by Humans of Syracuse

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • July 21, 2017

“I have been accused, on occasion, of favoring the Northside on my blog. There might be some truth to it! It’s only because the Northside is amazingly vibrant and giving. From families that have made their home there for generations, to brand new Americans, I am welcomed on the streets, in their homes, churches, mosques and temples. The diversity is incredible and energizing. It’s true, I <3 the Northside.” – Kathe Harrington, Humans of Syracuse

You can follow Kathe’s 7 day takeover on our Instagram.

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NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Don Cronk

Written by Rachel Nolte  • July 19, 2017

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Editor’s Note: The Northside Business Partnership (NBP) is an association comprised of Northside businesses, property owners, and organizations. It serves as an advocate group for the Northside, strengthening the vitality of the business community by connecting, engaging, and promoting its members. NBP is administrated by NEHDA.

 

 

 

Don is a co-owner of The Laundry Room, a full service laundromat with wash and fold services. The Laundry Room has been an NBP member since 2014, not long after they opened their second location on N. Salina Street. Read on to learn more about the importance of YouTube to a laundromat owner, as well as other behind-the-scenes challenges.

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Q: Are you from Syracuse originally?

Don: No, I am not. I grew up in Arcade, New York, which is outside of Buffalo about an hour. Small, rural town, north of Olean, near Letchworth State Park.

 

Q: What brought you to Syracuse?

Don: So I met my wife in college at Alfred. She’s originally from Liverpool. After college, she got a teaching job in Auburn. I was an accountant, so I stayed in Western New York for six months, and then after tax season I decided to come to the big city of Syracuse, ’cause I was living in Arcade still working, and I thought, well, I would love to come here. It’s big. And I’m happy I did.

 

Q: How did you first get into the field of renovating & renting property?

Don: So I had a sales job. I was working at a company called Wynit in East Syracuse and I was right time, right place. It was a sales company and we worked in digital imaging and all these electronics and I wanted to be in sales. I decided I was done with this accounting thing ’cause I found out from being an accountant working at different companies, the people making the money were the sales guys.

 

Q: Did you go to school for accounting?

Don: Yes. So I decided to get into sales. I happened to apply to this job and I worked there for ten years. I think when I started, there was twelve to fourteen sales people, and by the time I left in 2004 there was nearly a hundred sales people. So we had grown exponentially. I had gotten in early enough to get ahead of that and ride it. It was a great experience for me. While I was there, I started buying some real estate. I bought a two family, and then another two family, and those were more turn-key. Those weren’t fixer uppers because I had a day job, but in 2004 I got into a point where I had acquired enough properties that I could do it full time. Plus my wife was teaching, and we had relatively low overhead. We never changed our lifestyle to—I was making great money, but we never went and bought a new house or drove fancy cars or any of that stuff. So, she stayed home with the kids for a few years and then went back to teaching, and then I left and started buying a couple of HUD foreclosures, fixing those up. And then, uh, I ended up having a bunch of units and then I had somebody approach me about partnering, just as a silent partner from a financial standpoint.

 

Q: What does that mean exactly?

Don: So for example, I’ve got an 18-unit over on Court Street. We bought that in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis. The lady that owned it lived in California and she was totally upside down on that. She paid too much for it, it was half-vacant, various levels of disrepair. So I bought that with cash. I didn’t have three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, so I brought a partner in to help me with that, and it works out great for everybody. I still own the building. So that’s why I brought in a partner for that project. Subsequently, we’ve stayed together and we’ve done other projects, so it works out good for everybody. Everybody has their strengths, my partner has his own day job, so he does his thing, but we go over the books regularly. But that’s how I got into it. I started with a one family, I bought a single family over here on the Northside for like, ten grand from HUD one time and fixed it up. I still have it, I haven’t really sold anything yet. I’d like to sell but just not yet. Waiting for the kids to get through college.

I always was a fixer. I always liked to find broken things… I think I learned that from my father. He was a fixer. We didn’t throw things out and we pretty much did things ourselves. Through college, I worked construction. Framing houses for builders, that kind of thing. You just sort of get to know how to do different things. And YouTube. Thankfully we have YouTube now.

 

Q: You came across the laundromat business more or less by chance, it sounds. What kind of skills did you have to learn on the job?

Don: So we had an 18 unit and across the street was a mixed use building that has a laundromat, a store, and a couple of apartments on it. It’s on the corner of Court and Spring. It was in rough shape and it was for sale. I thought, well, it’s not really doing our property any good. It’s pulling it down, is probably what’s happening. So if we could control the property, maybe we could maintain the value in our property across the street. So it was really like a protection thing, and that’s sort of how I positioned it. We tried to talk with the owner about buying it and, I don’t know, it just didn’t go anywhere. And then a year later he approached us again and wanted out and we were able to come to terms. The store was under lease so I had nothing to do with that, and I still don’t, other than collecting the rent and doing minor maintenance when I need to for them. They’re fantastic tenants, I’m very fond of Unis, he’s my tenant. But the laundry was, maybe half of the stuff worked.

So I just sort of tried to figure it out. I didn’t call a company, a company that would come and make maintenance repairs on your washing machines because it’s wicked expensive. You get a hundred dollar trip charge, $50 an hour, so it just wasn’t going to work. I thought I could figure it out. I already had washing machines in some of our apartments.  You know, in the basements of some of the bigger ones, you put a couple of coin-op machines. So I just started figuring it out. It just started with one machine. And you know what happens is, they’re all the same. If you look, there’s 24 dryers in here and they’re all the same thing. So if you figure one out, the rest you can figure out. Just went one at a time, literally went on YouTube and watched videos on how to fix stuff. That’s what I did, and over the years, I think we’ve just hit five years with that building because I just had to do my certificate of compliance, which is a five year thing with the city. It’s a great laundromat.

Owning a laundromat is difficult. It seems like it would be great, you know, “Oh just collect the money and then go home.” But there’s a lot of personalities. Your customers are…laundromat customers, which is a difficult thing. Those people generally earn a different socioeconomic level than maybe you or I, and they have a different set of challenges in life. You have a lot of loitering, public restrooms, things like that. It’s not perfect, but nothing is. And if it was easy, everybody would do it, is what I keep telling myself. But I do enjoy it. I guess I liked it enough to do another one.

 

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Q: What skills did you already have that helped you?

Don: I was already quite mechanically inclined. So I think that is what—just a figure-it-out, have a figure-it-out kind of mentality. I never went to school to learn how to do any of these things, but I grew up in a home where we did things ourselves. . .The business and the accounting experience that I gained from college, and working in both public and private firms, ’cause I think that’s been very helpful for—there’s  a large amount of accounting, paperwork, taxes, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. There’s just a lot of bookwork. If you own anything, you have to at the end of the year file your taxes, you have to have your ducks in a row.

 

Q: Is there any kind of pressure in the field to move towards green washing technology?

Don: We already have, actually. So, what we have done, if you look at both of our stores, we’re slowly weaning out the top-load machines, which will generally use about 100 gallons of water per cycle, or per run. Whereas the new ones that we have, we recently installed ten front loaders here, and then four larger front loaders over here, thirty and fourty pounders, and those are express wash units that use maybe, the whole cycle might use 50 gallons of water. So it’s literally half. Which we have to, ’cause the rates, both from the county and from the city water department, they are going up exponentially. So we have to continue to be more efficient. And we try to price things properly too. So if you’re going to use my front loader, it’s going to be a lot cheaper than if you want to use the top loader, ’cause I don’t want you to use the top loader. And ultimately, the customer gets a better finished product anyways with the front loader. But people are creatures of habit. They want to use the top loader. It’s what we grew up with, it’s what we use. But the fronts spin faster. The tops, they don’t spin as fast. But these ones spin way faster, so your dry time is half. It extracts a lot of water, so that saves a lot of money too.

 

Q: If you could own a laundromat anywhere, where would it be and why?

Don: We tried to own one on the hill, on Westcott Street. Before I bought this one, I tried to do one over there. But I still think there’s an opportunity for one over there. I can’t remember the street it’s on, but the owners are…they have an unrealistic value on the property and I don’t think they want to sell it. So that’s fine. But I think there’s still a great opportunity for one over there. I also think there’s an opportunity for one maybe on Erie Boulevard. I don’t really have a space that I go like, “Oh I definitely want one somewhere.”

 

Q: Are you looking to do more laundromats, or where do you see yourself headed?

Don: I’m not sure I’d buy another laundromat. I mean, if it presented itself, I might consider it. I’m not really in the business of being a tenant though. I only want to do it if I can own a building because I want to be in control of the whole thing. So those are hard to find, and I’d probably also want something that has other sources of income. Often times you’ll see a building that’ll be a laundromat, and then there will be a couple of other tenants. If I found another apartment complex that would meet my criteria, I would definitely go after it. . .That’s an interesting market. There’s not a lot of turnover, and sometimes the turnover occurs totally off the radar so there’s not even an opportunity to get in on it.

 

Q: Favorite Northside or Syracuse event?

Don: Well, I like that Clean Up (‘Cuse) event, but I don’t generally participate in it. I did the first year we were here, but I’m in the “Clean up all the time” event. I literally pick up garbage the second I get out of my truck on the way to wherever I’m walking. So I don’t always participate in the once a year cleanup, ’cause I’m doing it all the time. I don’t like to go anywhere empty-handed, is the way I look at it . . . A couple of years ago, we had donuts and coffee in here and this was the starting point for the crew. We picked up, and we had a nice time.

 

Q: Any events or promotions?

Don: We have two promotions at both stores on Wednesdays. So this one, on North Salina Street, the twenty-pound front loaders are a dollar fifty. We take fifty cents off. You really can’t find a twenty pound washing machine for a dollar fifty anywhere. It’s very successful. We’re busy all day on Wednesdays. At our Court Street store, we have our 60-pounders that we take a dollar off. They’re generally six dollars and they’re five dollars on Wednesdays. We’re also air conditioned here at the Salina Street store, which is nice, especially come the summertime.

To learn more about The Laundry Room, visit their website.

*Note: When you enter the Laundry Room, there is an abundance of flags hanging from the ceiling. This is because when the laundromat first opened, Don invited people to tell him what country they are from so he could display their flag. However, he has gotten to the point where he doesn’t know where to put any more flags! 

Photo Friday: At Play

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • July 14, 2017

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NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Mike Glynn

Written by Rachel Nolte  • July 13, 2017

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Editor’s Note: The Northside Business Partnership is an association comprised of Northside businesses, property owners, and organizations. It serves as an advocate group for the Northside, strengthening the vitality of the business community by connecting, engaging, and promoting its members. NBP is administrated by NEHDA.

 

 

 

 

Mike is the co-owner of Rocky’s News & Cigars, a four-year NBP member business with over 50 years of experience in cigars. Read on to find out more about the history of the business and what makes it such a unique store today.

 

Mike

 

Q: Has Rocky’s always been located here on the Northside?

Mike: Yes, it was originally where Asti’s is now and then the previous owner moved it to this location, and then we bought it from him in 1985.

 

Q: What do you like about your location?

A: Well, we’ve seen this neighborhood change quite a lot. When we first got here, it was one of the last really vibrant blocks, and it was really super. We do like our proximity to downtown, the new residential (development) that’s going on down there, a lot of the goods and services we offer are a little bit harder to find downtown so that helps us out a lot. We like being on the main thoroughfare of Salina Street, loads of cars, loads of traffic, that’s really good for us. We like being within an eyeshot of the hospital, one of the major employers, that’s very good for us. Having 81 situated like it is, both the on-ramps and off-ramps are very good for customers.

 

Q: Do you have a lot of people that travel far to get here?

Mike: Yes. We have city-wide, we’re very well known for the level of service we offer for lottery customers, so we get a lot of people that drive from far points in the city. Secondly though, our cigar business is actually known across the nation and very much state wide―to where we have customers from Albany, Watertown, Binghamton, Buffalo―that will drive specially to see us. We’re also highly regarded nationally. We do a lot of business over the phone and internet, ship to people on vacation and help ‘em out with their cigars that way. We focused on cigars because we needed to become a destination to get more people in the store. . .Our most recent change to expand the time frame—obviously, it’s a fair weather pastime—so it’s enjoyed far more in the fair weather months than in the winter. So this winter, we added the leather chairs which gave guys a reason to enjoy their hobby indoors because you can smoke at Rocky’s. We are allowed to have smoking in the building. It’s one of the unique exemptions that we have with the state.

 

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Q: How did you come to this line of work?

 Mike: Well, it was very strange. I was selling radio advertising locally as a kid out of college, and—

 

Q: What did you go to college for?

Mike: I went for broadcast.

 

Q: Are you a local?

 Mike: Yes, I grew up in Liverpool, went to school in Genesseo, and then I was here working, and my wife’s dad, my father-in-law, was doing business with Rocky, the original Rocky Salino, in a side business that he was doing. I was getting a little antsy selling advertising. I was meeting a lot of business owners and I kind of thought that I would be cut out to be on that side of the desk instead of just selling to the guys on that side of the desk. So with that in mind, my father-in-law came here in, I can tell you when it was, it was Christmas Eve 1984, and had brought Rocky a Christmas present, said “Thanks for a good year together.” Rocky said, “What’s going on? I’m waiting on an offer to sell the store. There’s a fellow coming in here but he’s all alone. It really takes two people to run this place. It’s very complicated, it runs 24 hours a day, it never closes, 7 days a week, and my father-in-law coincidentally had just sold a similar business. So he had done this for about ten years. He said, “Hey, if that deal doesn’t work out, I have a young son-in-law who’s 26 years old, has got a ton of energy and wants to own a business, and I know how to run the business, maybe together we could do it.” And as luck would have it, May 15th, ’85, 45 days later, we step behind the register and own the place. So we just finished our 31st year, May 15th. Quite a feat in the city of Syracuse.

 

Q: Do you get a lot of customers that come in for a first time cigar experience or do you have a lot of reoccurring customers?

 Mike: Our business grows on first time customers because our information, the tracking that we do on sales, shows that once we get the customer, if they enjoy the experience, which we work hard at, as they repeat business, their purchases grow. So, our core business is on existing customers but our growth is always on new customers. So this year, we committed more than ever to advertising our store, promoting our store, so that we can reach people who are new to cigar smoking, or people who are new to Syracuse and don’t yet know about us. We’re quite a landmark in town, but still there are those who don’t know about Rocky’s.

 

Q: Is it a lot of people that come in to celebrate a wedding or a birth, or is it just to explore?

Mike: Well, the reason guys come in, is if they’re in the hobby of cigars and they hear my advertising, they want to come in and see what’s going on. Our store is—just matter of fact, not bragging—you’d have to go to Albany to find more cigars. You’d have to go west, you’d have to go all the way south to Jamestown to find as many cigars. We have an unbelievable inventory of product. We maintain a massive inventory, and when guys come in, they’re pretty impressed and we usually have what they want. So for new guys, that’s the way that works. But we also have, over the last several years, we have really expanded our offerings of cigars. So beyond just retailing product, we have a Cuban guy on staff who rolls cigars. He’s very popular with weddings, corporate events, things like that. Then we also custom band cigars. I have a graphic designer that will say, you know, “Mike and Rachel: May 24, 2017” and we do a wedding band. So we just did two boxes this week. Some guys were at a cigar dinner I just had, they said “Mike, it’s short notice, we’ve got a wedding in June, do you think you could do a box of cigars for my wedding?” We tore that right up. We had that done in a week’s time.  Both guys were ecstatic. So there are a lot of special occasions that work around cigars, including boy/girl. We have boy/girl cigars out there. Our proximity to the hospital has always been good for that, although it’s not as popular as it used to be.

 

Q: What cigar would you recommend to somebody who is completely new to the experience?

Mike: We would start with a really mild cigar. I’m actually part owner in a cigar company that’s a national affair and we have a brand called Affinity that is a very, very good cigar for the price and it’s very mild so I would start with that.

 

Q: What does your ideal cigar experience involve, in terms of type of cigar, method of cutting, method of lighting, etc?

Mike: Well, cigars are very, very subjective, and I don’t have a favorite cigar. I just smoke what’s new. I have a theory, a principle here that everything we carry is taste-tested. We don’t just take stuff off of some guy’s price list and throw it in here. Everything is very particular about what we carry. But, at the same time, what I’ve noticed about cigars that is the greatest experience, is that when the cigars get lit and the smoke gets in the air, all the barriers get broken down. Whether you’re a prison guard or an insurance salesman, or a driver of a milk truck, or a farmer or a retail clerk at the mall, everybody enjoys the company of others when they’re smoking cigars. So it breaks down all the barriers and it creates—the best word I ever heard for it though—it creates a great sense of comradery and that is my best experience with cigars, is the comradery it creates among people.

Everyone cuts it their own way, everyone gets to light it their own way, they get to smoke their own size, and they get to smoke their own brand and choose their own flavors, and that’s the beauty of it, because it is so very subjective. I have a guy that comes in here, he’s one of my very best customers, I can tell you two customers. One guy is a retired county worker and he buys one of the least expensive cigars in the store, and he buys them by the handful. He’s one of my best customers, he’s a great guy. Another guy is a business owner in town, and he buys cigars, a different cigar, by the handful, that cost five times as much.  And he buys five or six every single day. They’re two completely different walks of life, they’re smoking two completely different cigars, but they’re enjoying them at exactly the same level. They just light them and enjoy them.

 

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Q: Cigars have a culture that is heavily grounded in tradition. Having been in the businesses for so long, what kind of changes have you seen?

Mike: The cigar business has changed immensely. It’s totally different than it used to be. It used to be that a guy smoked the same cigar all the time, and he smoked two or three of those, and they all smoked really big cigars, like the gangsters in the movies used to smoke. Now a days, they are open to all different shapes and sizes where they weren’t before. They are very interested in what’s new. To run a successful cigar operation today, you have to be very open minded to carrying what’s new, which is why we’re very strict on taste testing everything because it’s okay to be new, but it’s gotta be really high quality. Today’s cigars smoker though, changes brands, they have less brand loyalty, they’re much more open to ideas about trying new shapes, new sizes, and new companies. That’s very different than it was 30 years ago. And there’s a lot more companies, especially what we call boutique companies, which are the real small guys. This business, like any business, is dominated by say half a dozen major players, and then a dozen mid-tier players, and then 200 small players, all trying to get bigger. That’s our breakout, of how we find cigars, who we choose to do business with, we’re very particular about who we buy from, and cigar smokers today have all those choices that, thirty years ago there were only three or four makers.

One of the other things that I’ve learned that it’s very important that we emphasize in, is this is a hobby for our customers, but the depth of knowledge for the customer is not very deep. So we actually provide, we do a lot of promotions all year long, and many, many cigars dinners at various locations around town, and we have a core of customers who enjoy coming to the dinners because of the comradery, because of the ability to smoke a cigar and enjoy a meal, and what happens is we’ve formed some educational-based dinners. The guys come and they learn in a very in depth way about cigars. We’ve dissected them, we’ve demonstrated six ways to cut them, we’ve demonstrated ways to light them, how to store them, how to select them, how to talk the jargon. So it’s very education based.

 

 

To learn more about Rocky’s News & Cigars, visit their website or follow them on Facebook. If you’re interested in cigars and cigar events, Rocky’s has many events coming up.

 

 ROCKY’S EVENTS

 

JULY 23rd: Rocky’s Golf Tournament

The third annual golf tournament based around cigars.

 

AUGUST 15th: Rocky’s Day at Chief Stadium

 

SEPTEMBER 24th: Ballpark Brewfest

NBT Bank Stadium hosts a beer festival.

 

OCTOBERR 12th: The Little Big Smoke

Based on Cigar Aficionado magazine’s Big Smoke event, this is Rocky’s 18th annual fundraising event for MS. Event is held at Barbagallo’s and involves raffles, giveaways, nation-wide vendors, cigars, dinner, door prizes, liquor and beer tastings, and more.

Community Appreciation Picnic: July 18

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • July 12, 2017

Appreciation picnic

WHAT: Annual Community Appreciation Picnic

WHEN: Tuesday, July 18 from 3:00 – 8:00 p.m.

WHERE: Clinton Playlot on the corner of Gertrude and Lodi Streets

NEHDA and the Syracuse Northeast Community Center (SNCC) are combining their community picnics this year to celebrate all of the city officials, partner organizations, and neighbors that are dedicated to helping the Northside thrive. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit NEHDA’s website or join the Facebook invite.

Interested in volunteering at the event? Contact Lexie at lkwiek@snccsyr.org.

 

 

Photo Friday: The Unexpected

Written by Mary Beth Schwartzwalder  • July 7, 2017

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NBP Member Interview Series Featuring Brendan Rose

Written by Rachel Nolte  • July 6, 2017

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Editor’s Note: The Northside Business Partnership is an association comprised of Northside businesses, property owners, and organizations. It serves as an advocate group for the Northside, strengthening the vitality of the business community by connecting, engaging, and promoting its members. NBP is administrated by NEHDA.

 

 

 

 

Brendan is a member of Echo, a multi-disciplinary design studio located on the Northside. Echo has been a Northside Business Partnership member since 2013 and has been involved with a variety of community projects, such as their iconic mural located behind the Echo storefront in Lock Alley. Read on to find out how Echo has evolved over time, what the future may hold, and the hidden truth about the origins of the mural!

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 Q: For those who don’t know much about Echo, could you explain a little bit about the history of your business?

Brendan: Sure. Echo came about around 2010. Briana Kohlbrenner opened a store here called Craft Chemistry. That store was a community arts and crafts shop that was a hybrid gallery and craft shop, so she would have gallery openings and a featured artist every couple of months. I was friends with Briana and looking for a space to do studio work. There were a couple of other designers called Lock 49, Damian Vallelonga and Jeff Walter, who were starting their own internet and software design, graphics, branding design business and they were also looking for a place to house themselves. So we collaborated with Briana to be able to work out of Craft Chemistry as a co-working space while she was operating that as a store. That evolved into us collaborating, both on arts projects and wanting to figure out how to encourage that collaborative co-working space as a place to be a community of artists and designers.

 

Q: Are you at all involved with the co-working space downtown or is that totally separate?

Brendan: Totally separate. It started up after we had been taking a crack at this for a little bit. They’re explicitly a co-working space and we were looking to be a space of collaboration. They kind of hope that happens there (downtown), but co-working is their only mission and that was not ours. That was just part of what we were interested in, as well as making art activity happen. So we collaborated on a lot of projects with different people leading in different directions. Myself, I was more involved with the public arts scene, explicitly the sculpture and public space work. Briana was involved in art market stuff, so she started the Salt Market with some friends. So she was doing big art market events, and then there would just be overlap in terms of our interests and we would have some of our events together. At some point we decided to formalize it and actually become a business and have an identity and not just be this loose conglomeration of people and work.

 

Q: How did you choose the name Echo?

Brendan: Um, it was a long and arduous process and the answer is just like, it kind of came out of nowhere. We spent a lot of time trying to come up with names that resonated with us and maybe were open ended and not so specific to “Oh, we’re a company that does this,” but could be a bit more poetically interesting. In terms of symbolism, it resonated because of us being the work of a collective, so the idea of multiple voices being expressed. So that was something that worked as a name and in some ways, it was just kind of arbitrary and that’s also part of the creative act, I guess. Finding the arbitrary things that work in the specific moment.

 So that’s the early history of how we got started. Then we were officially developing projects and events and things underneath that company and brand. Briana closed Craft Chemistry and became more full time engaged with trying to do events and art activities. We looked for other homes to expand our footprint, someplace where we could really host events…and had a lot of trouble finding the right spot. Then people got busy with other things, so now we’re into a new form and evolution of what we are as a business.

 

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Q: So how would you define that now?

Brendan: I think now we’re much more of a professional services design firm. I recently got licensed as an architect.

 

Q: Congratulations!

Brendan: Thank you. So I’m more pushing for explicitly architecture work as a designer, and Briana has since left the business. She was driving a lot of the event-based activity stuff, and that is not really part of what we do anymore. We still have a lot of interest in art and public space and that’s still a part of our work. We still do collaborative design projects. We’ve been working on new signs for the Westcott neighborhood. It’s all under our umbrella of stuff that we’re developing as part of our public space/creative work. That’s still very much alive. Damian and Jeff have also shifted a lot of their energy to one particular project that they’ve been developing called Entrada Piano Technique. That’s a big project. It takes up a lot of their time and energy. It’s an online piano lessons… thing. They became partners in terms of the development of this in terms of a product and a package. It’s not something that they were contracted to do but they’re really full invested partners in trying to make that an international successful business, so they’re putting a lot of time in that and that means there’s not a lot of activity in terms of their creative work.

Recently, Zack Bloomer, who also is a licensed architect, has joined us. Initially he was just a coworker here, and now we’re partnering on projects and he’s officially becoming part of the Echo team. So we’re moving more towards the professional architectural and design services and a little less toward the art event activities. Co-working, we still run this kind of flexible space, so if someone approached us and wanted to work here like Northside UP has, we love to have good partners, but we also have the improv collective meeting here at night. They run classes out of here. So there’s still some co-working and communal shared space activities, but we’re not marketing it anymore.

 

Q: Where would you like to see the organization go?

Brendan: I think part of the strength is in the diversity of projects and directions, so I would like us to be doing some significant architectural work, and right now we do have a couple of projects that we are working on,  with Northside UP on developing a conceptual plan for a project. I also just started working on the near West Side on the old 19th century brick building that’s getting rehabbed and renovated into apartments and then a restaurant.

So we’ve got some projects, and that’s good and we want to keep developing that work, and activating public spaces and [figuring out] how to make the city work better on a street level. I don’t want to stop doing that. Sometimes that looks like a mural and sometimes it’s things like the bus stop, which are design or kind of architecture–but we also like those things to be playful, sculptural spaces. We’re always looking for good partners too. If there were more creative people who wanted to work on the fringes of the design world, then it would be nice to have a larger pool of collaborators.

Also, one of our strengths that I don’t want to let go of is doing the hands-on work. It is definitely one thing that separates us from a lot of the architectural and design world- we end up building a lot of stuff ourselves, whether it’s furniture or the bus stop or those kinds of small scale projects that we can really see through from front to end. I think of it as architecture, but it’s not in the profession of architecture necessarily to be welding the steal.

 Lock Alley mural

Q: What was your inspiration for the Lock Alley Mural?

Brendan: You know, I think that came out of Briana Kohlbrenner. In some ways she was the driving creative vision. She really loved the sunsets out of those back windows and said there was something really special about that, and maybe if we could do something that has some kind of relationship to that. So we were kind of doing that, and searching for, wanting to do something fun and graphic and bold and not necessarily representational. So we didn’t want to paint a sunset but to do some fun, funky, loud, bright—also, the sunset was kind of one piece, and then there was, it’s just dark and grey and often times snowy here and let’s see something that gives some color and life to the alley. Those things came together. Then there was an artist who, I should know their name, but we kind of a little bit cribbed their style. He does these superhero paintings or graphics that look like that. So that might be a representation of the sunset, but he’ll do like, superman with all these crazy blocks of geometric shapes that represent that. You can see the figure through, but they’re kind of fun and abstract. We just kind of, “Well, let’s search around for cool things on the internet and see what we’re inspired by” and then we try to make it our own. So, full disclosure on that.

 

Q: What first drew you into this line of work?

Brendan: Oh, I should also mention, around the Lock Alley Mural, the first inspiration was that Jean, who owns the building and has Turning Pointe upstairs, asked us to do something about the **** and ***** painting that was on the walls because that was there previously. She said, “I’ll give you guys some money if you come up with something to cover up that.” That was the original inspiration.

 

Q: Now that is a good story.

Brendan: Alright sorry, what was your next question?

 

Q: What first drew you into this line of work?

Brendan: I grew up in Syracuse, and Damian and Jeff also grew up in Syracuse and so did Zack. I don’t know how much that effects our story, but I wanted to be here because I care about my family and because I care about the city because I grew up here. So a lot of my professional journey here has been how do I figure out a way to be here and to do interesting things in the face of a, to be perfectly honest, both an economy and a creative culture that’s not super robust compared to other places you could be in this country. So that has taken some creativity and in and of itself is a creative project. That’s kind of what being an entrepreneur is.

I’ve had the good fortune and support of lots of different people in the community and different organizations, such as Northside UP, to be able to collaborate and be supported on a whole range of interesting projects, to be able to make a little bit of a living doing things that, I think, help make the city a little bit better and are also just a heck of a lot of fun to do. So, I think that’s kind of where the work comes out of and that’s maybe why it takes so many forms because on any given month or year, what opportunities are there, and what your own personal things that you’re driven to create in terms of opportunities, shift and change. I don’t know if that really answers the question, but—the line of work, I’ve always been a designer, interested in both art and problem solving, so I guess that’s where that comes from. I think that’s kind of true of everyone who’s been part of the Echo project. People who are both interested in creativity, but not just wanting to do it alone in their studio as a singular form of self-expression, but as a way of collaborating with other people to engage with the world in some particular way that hopefully enriches the community.

 inside echo

Q: Do you have any suggestions for people interested in arts and design and want to get more involved?

Brendan: Yes. It helps to make your own opportunities. You have to not be shy about making your own opportunities, going out there, putting yourself out there, both searching for what opportunities show themselves, and making the best of those small opportunities, and also be okay with finding a vision for yourself about something that you think should happen and then gathering the support to make it happen. Then just being willing to do the slow, hard work of being a bureaucrat on your own behalf, and not wait for someone else to get the funding or get the approval, but do all of that—be willing to—it’s not like you have to do the work yourself because you need partners to do it, but to do the work to make the partnerships and communicate with those partners and work with those partners to make things possible. I think that’s a big piece of what makes most things of value happen. Hard effort – someone pursuing something they feel strongly about. So that’s part of it. I think for me, and for Echo in general, a lot of it has been about community partners. Get involved with groups like Northside UP, or whatever community groups you see doing interesting things. Hawley Green, the neighborhood association, whatever, and see how your work can support what they’re doing, and that will feed back to you.

To learn more about Echo, visit their website and follow them on Instagram.

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