Nearly four months ago, Gothic Press in Brooklyn, NY replaced a century-old Dexter Paper Cutter with a new 36” Prism from Colter & Peterson. Incredibly, the old machine was a fixture at the storefront shop since it opened in 1939 – yes, 1939! But the new cutter wouldn’t be in Brooklyn if Gothic Press didn’t survive its biggest battle. Hurricane Sandy, the immense superstorm that ravaged New York City on October 29, 2012, caused devastation that owners George Pompilio and his brother, Pete, are still recovering from.
“It wasn’t just Sandy that almost put us out of business. It was the residual fallout from the storm and everything that took place afterwards,” said George. “Our building was hit hard, we lost power for days, and we had a massive clean-up due to the sinkhole next door. Later, word got around falsely that we had gone out of business. It took many months to rebuild and as a result of all the stress, my brother and I have dealt with major health issues the last couple of years. But we survived and are thankful we still have the business.”
Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record spanning 1,100 miles in diameter. It severely impacted the eastern seaboard and caused incredible damage. The storm surge flooded streets and tunnels and shut down the subway lines in New York City. Gothic Press is located on the southern tip of Brooklyn, to the east of Coney Island and not far from the Atlantic Ocean. George Pompilio said the small, 1,600 square-foot neighborhood offset, letterpress and digital shop on Avenue Z was ground zero when the Sheepshead Bay inlet was swamped by storm surge.
“The inlet is only a little more than a quarter-mile away from us, but what did the damage was when they closed off the sewage treatment plant, and all the sewers in the neighborhood backed up. We had 4-1/2 feet of water in the streets and the basement was submerged under nine feet of water, plus another 2-1/2 feet above it. The sewer line basically exploded and our neighbor had a sinkhole appear under his foundation. Our basement wound up with 25 yards of sand that almost filled a 30 foot dumpster. It took Pete and I – with help from friends and family who came over from New Jersey and up from Alabama – several days to clear it all out. We had to crawl into an unsecured hole, fill the wheelbarrows and then carry them up a flight of stairs to the dumpster.”
That was just the beginning. Damaged items, including 70 years of memorabilia, had to be tossed. Next was fixing the sinkhole, which had swallowed the ruptured 4” cement floor. What little remained had to be sledgehammered before being removed, and the brothers bought six yards of cement to fill the hole. George said at the same time, they had to farm out work that still needed to be done to keep the business running.
“When the basement flooded, we lost $20,000 in paper and all our prepress equipment. All of our receivables were gone, and only one customer at the time came forward to pay their bill. We had to replace the steel I-beam to support the floor because the old one pancaked from the damage. We also put in a new heating system and continued farming out work until we could get all new electric installed six months later.”
Adding insult to injury, their insurance company decided not to reimburse them for the damage. “Three blocks to the north, no one had flooding or lost power. Our insurance company determined it was an act of God. When your business gets ruined like ours did, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. We lost $200,000 in machinery alone, not counting lost revenue and clean-up costs. The Small Business Administration had a program where we could get a 4% loan, but they said we also needed flood insurance. The cost for a business is 10 times higher than for a homeowner, and we would have had to pay it in one lump sum. We couldn’t afford it.”
But the Pompilio brothers persevered and Gothic Press today is still kicking, producing a variety of commercial printed materials for local and New Jersey customers, plus others as far away as Florida and Georgia. Local automobile businesses, attorneys, some ad agencies and an adoption agency are part of the client roster. Gothic Press still prints everything imaginable – from brochures and business cards to letterhead, menus, stationery and all in-between. George says they’re also the go-to place for screen printed jackets, sweatshirts, T-shirts and hats.
“Many of our customers before the storm, and those afterwards, stood by us until we could get back on our feet from the rebuilding and our health issues. Working 15 hours a day caught up to us. I had a heart attack and Pete had surgery to remove his gallbladder, and he’s also dealing with cancer. But with our customers’ support, one of the three great things to come out of Hurricane Sandy for our business was the new Prism paper cutter. We also installed a new Computer-to-Plate device and a new folding machine.”
George indicated he wanted a paper trimmer similar in size to the 38” Dexter his father Peter (later a World War II hero who was wounded in battle and was missing in action for six months) bought from Roy Colter in 1939. “When we replace equipment, we always try to keep it the same size. The Prism is much faster, very reliable and more exact. Our Dexter was an old manual machine and we were always taking the time to make adjustments because the back gauge was off a bit. When I use the Prism, it’s like night and day. It’s a different animal and insultingly safe – sometimes my stomach gets in the way and trips the beam, which stops the machine from operating,” laughs George. “It’s also saving us a lot of time with all of the automated features.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I doubt you’ll ever read a more fascinating and inspiring “installation” story than this one. Special thanks to Colter & Peterson PR rep Bob Wolff for the story and images.)