Home / Columns and Features / Perseverance wins out when
disaster hits home

Perseverance wins out when
disaster hits home

First Person features local businesspeople relating–in their own words– experiences and lessons that have shaped their professional development.
My third career began in June 1990. After growing up in the baking business, followed by 28 years in the medical-supply field, I ended my early retirement as quickly as it began with a new venture into the printing world. This “final” career has presented some of my best and, on at least one occasion, some of the most challenging times of my life.
In 1989, my brothers and I sold our family business, Physicians Supply Corp. of Rochester. After the sale, I began to look for a job. With a non-compete contract preventing me from working in the medical-supply business, and too old to be attractive to many employers for new sales and marketing management positions, I struggled to find work. The only jobs available at the time were in retailing–a field that did not match my interests.
At that point, I rediscovered an old love: printing. I had always enjoyed drafting and layout work, and printing was an excellent fit. I bought Professional Instant Press in Lyell-Mount Read Plaza from a merchant looking to retire.
As I embarked in the printing business, Professional Instant Press became my new home, and I was welcomed into the area with open arms. As I learned more about the business and our customer base grew, my wife (and business partner) and I were excited by the direction our venture was taking.
Then disaster hit. In April 1994 a fire destroyed the business I had learned to love. I was awestruck when, after I left the store for a local delivery, I followed fire trucks back to 1322 Lyell Ave. Flames and smoke billowed from the structure. Crowds gathered to watch. Friends came to the scene and cried. I shared their tears, but in silence. It was tempting to throw in the towel, but I knew I had to go on. All I could think of was how I would rebuild. The only thing that went through my mind was, “What would we do that afternoon?”
I was out of work for a few days, making plans to temporarily relocate. Paper is the primary inventory item we have, and the thousands of pounds stacked throughout the store provided ample fuel for the blaze. While my entire stock of paper was destroyed, much of the equipment was salvageable. Through the help of a good friend, I was able to quickly move into temporary facilities. If not for my friend’s warehouse, I do not know what we would have done.
Among the thousands of things going on at that time, a critical concern was our customer base. Since we bought this business, my wife and I had worked tirelessly to build a nice group of loyal customers– many of whom were concerned whether we’d be able to continue to serve them.
After only a few days, we were back in business working out of the local warehouse. We sent out a widespread mailing telling everyone we were still around and eager to provide service. The flier’s head-line: “We’re devastated, but not dead.” We were delighted at the support we generated. While I can’t say business poured in during this time, we stayed busy and worked both to keep up with current demand and to rebuild our permanent store.
Fire destroyed many hours of work that had gone into building our business, but with that significant cost and heart-ache behind us we took the opportunity to create a new, brighter environment in our facility. After gutting most of the charred remains, we installed a completely new interior. Following three hot summer months working out of the warehouse, we were able to move back into the Lyell-Mount Read Plaza. The efficient, well-lit operation now runs better than it did before.
While some customers may have strayed during the transition, we are grateful for the support we received. Many offered their services, or sent flowers and food; some even increased their orders as a sign of support. Many still thank me for not leaving the business. I had so much support from everyone–family, friends, neighbors, suppliers and customers–that it was overwhelming!
Every once in a while, when I pass by the remains of a burned-out building or even smell the scent of the charred ashes in our home’s fireplace, I think back to that fateful day in 1994. The fire at 1322 Lyell Ave. played an important part in my life. Through all the frustration and sweat it caused, the fire that destroyed my business reinforced one important lesson: Whatever happens, whatever life presents to you, no matter how painful the future looks, you must go on. There’s one addendum to that lesson: You can’t always do it alone!
(Gary Gottfried owns Professional Instant Press.)
If you have a story to tell, fax a one- page synopsis to Associate Editor Chris LeBeau at 546-3398, or e-mail it to RBJournal@aol.com.


Check Also

Jim Hammer

Business Hall of Famers stress adaptability, flexibility, relationships (access required)

While many business leaders nationwide have lost sleep wondering how to drum up new leads, others are experiencing a different ...

Pictured is an MCC student engaging in hands-on learning in the optical systems
technology program. MCC’s Future of the Technician Workforce Study found that
industries like Internet of things, automation and robotics, artificial intelligence and
more will have growing importance (Photo provided).

MCC program designed to bridge skills gap for technicians (access required)

The region’s next generation of technicians will need a varied skill set, focusing not only on new technologies and processes ...

2020 Super Lawyers & Rising Stars

The 2020 Upstate New York Super Lawyers and Rising Stars have been announced and the following Rochester lawyers have made ...


Mitigating cyberattacks while working from home (access required)

While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in phishing scams and other cybersecurity attacks there are steps companies ...