Could you give us a short history of the business?
The business actually started in the early 1920s. Originally it was in Manhattan, around 72nd street on the East side, then the original owners got bought out and the business was brought over here to Brooklyn, where we are today. They started here in 1935 or 36. Then my dad worked for those people and eventually bought them out and that’s where we are today! So I’m the next generation: the first family generation, but it’s really been a generational business for the past 70-some odd years. We have three lots and our total square footage is 7500, and we average anywhere between four to ten employees, depending on the economy. We try to keep it less than ten people.
What kind of equipment do you use? Anything highly specialized?
Everything is really hand work. It’s really artistic abilities. We have cranes and we do have an operating furnace. We’re still grandfathered in so we’re a legal, legitimate foundry where we can melt metal. That’s one of our heaviest pieces of equipment. Other than that, it’s using natural resources, sand, to do our castings.
Could you elaborate on the main materials you use?
Our main ingredient is what we call French sand. It’s a soil that originally came from France. It was imported to the United States and that’s our primary molding material: we make prints of the sculptures with the sand and then we pour the bronze into it, we break open the molds and we add water to it again. It’s constantly recycled. So from when they started the business back in the 1920s up until today, we’ve been using the same material.
How has your industry changed over the years?
A lot of changes. Prices have gone up considerably, in terms of raw materials. Mostly what we use is bronze, and since I’ve owned the business, it’s more than doubled, almost tripled within a short range. Also the market has changed. Everything today is immediate and the job that I do is not something that can be done immediately, but still that’s what’s demanded. They want immediacy, so sometimes you have to cut corners where you don’t want to. You’re getting pushed away from the perfection part of it just trying to meet schedules.
So how have you been able to adapt to those changes?
It’s pretty much just through years of experience. Like my father would say: it’s never an easy job. You think the job is easy, you’ve done it many times, and then you just push that much further, you just gotta get it done.
What should people know about your company?
For one thing, I’m still proud of the fact that we are in New York. Manufacturing is making a resurgence, but it’s not how it used to be. We’re proud of the stuff that was made in New York and belongs in New York. One of the things I tell everybody is “I guarantee you’ve seen my work.” We have many monuments: the bull down by Wall Street was cast over here; we have the Iwo Jima monument in Arlington Cemetery in D.C. We have pieces all around the world! And it’s just a reminder while everybody’s shopping around looking to go to China. Just to remind them: no, we can do it over here.
Do you source any of your materials locally?
The sand we’re using is the same sand, constantly recycled, so that’s all in-house. Our bronze we get from New Jersey. There’s a smelter there. They actually smelt the bronze and we buy it by ingots. In my particular business, we use a little bit of everything: when you’re sculpting something, you could use a baseball bat, an old saw blade, different materials. You can go around locally and get what you need.
Who are your major clients?
Times are changing. From my father’s generation, the major clients were older artists: Leonard Baskin; Chaim Gross; Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor for the bull; Felix de Weldon, who did the Iwo Jima monument. But it’s sad to say that a lot of them are dying off now. There was a period where, because we had such a lock on these customers, the younger artists wouldn’t come to us. In the art world, if you were dealing with that type of art, they didn’t want to be involved with you. But now it’s coming full circle. I’m starting to get the younger artists: Rashid Johnson, Carlyle Stewart, Peter Coffin. Up-and-coming artists. The art scene in New York and Brooklyn is strong and people are taking pride in the fact that things are being made in New York.
What would you consider some of the biggest challenges of being a business owner in New York?
The cost of doing business in New York is very difficult. Today everything is done by computer. It’s a global market. And not just global: I have to compete with prices if there’s a foundry in Oklahoma or Arkansas. Their cost of doing business is almost half of mine. That’s the biggest thing. When people are doing work for the city, city contracts go out to bid and those bids are going out of state. So if I’m in-state, in-city, trying to get the bid, I’m almost disqualified because I can’t afford to meet their requirements, cause they’re always going for the cheapest bid.
What’s next for you guys?
Everybody talks about advancing and growth. What we try to do is be stable. This is a business that’s been around for so many years. We have a tradition. So what’s next is trying to keep everything the same, the way they did it 70 years ago, but do it in the modern times.