Editor’s Note: Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside”.
I recall deciding in the spring of 1974 to approach my father about going into business together. After high school I attended LeMoyne College and then Oswego State. I traveled to California and back several times. In my heart I always longed to be a part of the family business. I admired my father’s skill. He was a toolmaker by trade. Injured in World War II, and unable to go back to his factory job at the conclusion of the war, he looked for a new livelihood. Armondo always had an interest in photography before the war. When the opportunity to train for the camera repair business arrived he made the leap. He married my mom, Sarah, as soon as he returned from war torn Europe. Training for a new career of course seemed risky. The G.I. Bill covered tuition and some expenses. After two years of training my father returned home and found his newly acquired skills did not open the door to employment. He was going to have to start his own business. Many of his friends and family members said he would be better off selling linoleum at the Busy Bee. He was making $9.00 a week, big money in post war Syracuse.
Armondo first tried to set up his camera repair shop downtown. It was a second floor location on the corner of Jefferson and Warren Streets. It didn’t work out. He relocated to the 900 block of North Salina Street right next store to Guerra’s Meat Market. Isaiah Guerra was a father-like figure to Armondo. He was kind and helpful and encouraged him to pursue his dream.
In 1974 I became restless and anxious. I had work experience with disappointing jobs in Journalism and Social Work and felt it was time to tell my father I wanted to pursue camera repair as a career. I grew up with the family business and felt I knew enough already. Early one morning in March I parked behind the camera shop and announced to Dad as I burst through the door that I wanted to go into business with him. He smiled then sipped his coffee. “That’s a nice idea but what exactly can you do to earn enough money to pay your salary?” He asked and I answered in generalities which served only to make his point. I really did not know nearly enough about the camera repair business to bring in sufficient cash flow. After about an hour of talking and speculating and reminiscing I came to the conclusion our working partnership was not going to happen. Dad folded both of his arms across his chest and looked at me with a serious expression that I knew all too well.
“The only way you can make it here is by working your way from the bottom up” he said. Surprised but jubilant I agreed immediately even though I didn’t really know what he meant by “…working from the bottom up.” The following Monday I found out. I was mopping the floor, washing the windows, answering the phone, ordering parts, making deliveries, everything but repairing cameras. When I completed my bottom up tasks he would have a camera waiting for me. Something I could learn on, take apart, and put together again. They were wonderful times, just my Dad and me. I wanted so much to make him proud and show him how much I had learned. I struggled, laughed, and learning so much about repair work and business in general. I wish I had taken more time to savor those moments. Because learning from the bottom up was one of the best experiences I have ever had.