Friedman ElectricFriedman ElectricMore than 65 years ago in Pittston, PA Jack Friedman made extension cords to sell door to door from the trunk of his car.  He grew that into a family business that is still owned and operated by the third generation of his family.  The twelfth Friedman Electric store opened in Ithaca four months ago.  But even though the store is new to Ithaca, local contractors have known about the companies huge selection and personalized service for some time.  "We noticed nationwide that Ithaca was one of the fastest emerging cities in the country," says Branch Manager Benny Teitelbaum.  "A lot of the rest of the country is experiencing very slow sales, very depreciated money, the value of the house, but not in Tompkins County."

The 15,681 square foot building is located on Cecil Malone Drive, the road that winds behind Wegman's.  It is divided into a section for contractors, a warehouse, and a spacious 5,000 square foot showroom.  " You name it from Joe homeowner to somebody who is building a machine," says Teitelbaum.  "We are doing a lot of maintenance and repair at the hospital.  We do retro fits for energy savings.  We take out old controls and lighting and ballast like that and we sell energy saving products which in the long run pay for themselves over time and saves you on your electricity bill.  We are all about that.  We do backup power we do telecommunications, we do surveillance, we do low voltage landscape lighting.  We do furniture."

The Friedman Electric Team (left to right): Wayne Menzi (outside sales), Benny Teitelbaum (General Manager), Rick Altemose (Warehouse manager), Johanna Altemose (Showroom Manager), Doug Taft (Counter Sales), Cheryl Shields (Lighting Consultant), Barb Cymara (Inventory Control Specialist).  (Not pictured, Robert Mead, delivery driver)

"Or one woman needing a single 60 watt light bulb," adds  Showroom Manager Johanna Altemose.  "Or an architect designing a restaurant or a store or some sort of market will do that also as well.  We do blueprints, schematics, we do everything that anybody would want or need to the best of our ability.  If we can't do it we will find someone in this organization that can."

The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, with a can-do attitude and obvious pride in the business.  Teitelbaum often takes items home with him to make after-hours deliveries.  The focus is on personalized service.  "A lot of key customers like Cornell, Ithaca College, and some of the bigger contractors have my cell and my home phone number in case they have a breakdown," Teitelbaum  says.  "As a matter of fact a couple of months ago Ithaca College had a breakdown and at 7:30 pm we got their wire to them after everyone else was closed.  That was a neat little success story."

Part of the challenge of opening a new store is getting the word out that you are there.  Friedman's set up a tent in the front parking lot and invited 150 contractors for a mini-trade show with vendors and barbecue.  That instantly built their base from the half dozen larger contractors who had been doing business with the company in Pennsylvania to include smaller companies and individuals as well.  Outside salesman Wayne Menzi travels the area introducing the company to commercial, industrial and institutional and anyone who has a need for electrical supplies.

The showroom side

Altemose says there are about a thousand fixtures on display in the showroom, and she will be tailoring the selection to Ithacans' tastes. She is already getting a sense of what local residents like.  "We can get just about anything that someone is looking for," she says.  "Around here it tends to be very contemporary or mission or arts and crafts, something that has a very straight line."

The store will participate in the Tompkins County and Cortland home show this year.  She says that in addition to the lighting and industrial equipment, you can go to the store for a single light bulb, or for batteries.  Or if you need to replace glass in an old lamp shade chances are they can help you find it.

Both Teitelbaum and Altemose have been with the company for years.  They moved to the area to run the store along with Altemose's husband Rick, who is the warehouse manager.  The rest of the staff is local from Newfield, Montour Falls, Genoa, Spencer, and Elmira. 

The Altemoses moved from Stroudsburg, where she had been working in the showroom, to Van Etten with their two children.  "Iit was a perfect opportunity not only for myself and for Rick but for our children as well," she says.  "The education, the school system, the people are wonderful.  We have two boys, 11 and 12.  They are right at a good age to move now and they integrated very easily.  They like it here."

The contractors side

Teitelbaum started in the Wilkes-Barre store in 1992 and was transferred to the Exeter store at a time where there was a need for an inside sales person for OEM accounts, providing parts for original equipment manufacturers.  Later he moved back to the Wilkes-Barre store, working in all aspects of the business.  He moved with his wife, 12 year old son and twin 11 year old daughters to Lansing in May.  "To turn 40 and be handed a manager's position and a new life in the Ithaca area was like a dream come true," he says.  "I couldn't turn it down.  We love it, my kids love it."  The kids are in Lansing Middle School, swimming on the swim team, and his son already bowls on the varsity team.

Teitelbaum says that even after only four months he wishes he had more warehouse space.  The company is providing supplies for two big building projects in Lansing, the new Regal Cinema complex and Homewood Suites, behind the Triphammer Mall.  He says they've already shipped over four miles of wire and four miles of conduit to be installed at Regal.

The chain is already opening a 13th store and Teitelbaum says the company plans to have on-line ordering next year.  But it is still a family owned and oriented business with founder Jack's grandson Rob Freidman the current president of the company, and his father Sid still active.  Locally, Teitelbaum and Altemose are quickly learning about the community, attending Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours events to let people know they are here.

The message is that they are here, and they have everything you would ever need that is electrical.  "I tell you more and more people come in every day,"  Teitelbaum says.  "It's just not turning on a switch and the light coming on any more."