“THE LAST OF THE TIN MEN”
EMPIRE STATE BUILDERS & CONTRACTORS INC.
STORY & PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM RILEY
It was the summer of 1985 when the story of Empire State Builders & Contractors began. “I was hanging out in the Hamptons after having just sold my deli in New Rochelle,” recalls Tom Christensen, the owner of Empire State Builders & Contractors Inc. “It was there that I met The Duke: a flashy guy who owned a siding business. I didn’t even know what siding was. He said to me: ‘If you ever need a job, look me up.’ As the summer progressed, I began meeting the rest of the crews. They were comparable to the Goodfellas, and they had guys you would see straight out of central casting in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ They all had flashy cars, clothes and lots of money. And they had nicknames like Little Marty, The Count, The Squealer, Babe, and so on. So, I decided after Labor Day I would give the business a try.” Learning the Hustle Tom remembers teaming up with a closer named Babe for his first gig. They went to Norwalk, Connecticut, and canvassed the neighborhood door-to-door looking for siding candidates. When Tom found a
homeowner that was interested, Babe the closer sold his first siding job. “The next day, The Duke handed me a check for $2,600. I was hooked,” says Tom. “I learned the business selling siding and windows, and we worked from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Newark, New Jersey. Our office was in local diners, with beepers and cell phones. Eventually the business converted from aluminum to vinyl siding. Most of the jobs were 99% financed.” Getting a “Burn-Off” “Once a contract was signed on, the next day the crew would ‘spike’ the job by putting up a 10’ by 10’ pattern of the chosen color. The crews were mostly mechanics from Long Island. They would complete a 20’ to 40’ square job in one to two days. On Thursday evenings, all the salesmen would meet The Duke at Oliver’s Restaurant in White Plains, and he would give the salesmen a ‘Burn-Off,’ which he kept track of on ‘The Sheet.’ On Fridays, everyone would go to the office, breakdown the jobs and get paid. The office was making $16,000,000 a year,” says Tom.
Rivertown Magazine, April 2019