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Aug 2, 2018

Joseph A. Carey, Carey Roofing


Doing Good by the Neighborhood Carey Roofing focuses on practical solutions, believes in jobs well done By Carlo Wolff | Photo by Ken Krych As president of four related companies, Joseph A. Carey Jr. has an insider’s view of neighborhood development. He runs Carey Roofing Corporation, Carey Demolition, Inc., Midtown Roofing Supply Co., Inc. and Maingate Business Development Corporation from an office on East 55th Street in Cleveland. The first three are for-profit. The last is a singular, nonprofit community development corporation dedicated to improving Carey’s base, the industrial area southeast of downtown Cleveland. Carey has operated out of his East 55th office since 1976, 30 years after his father took over the business (and Carey Roofing placed its first advertisement in Properties, making it the longest-running company to advertise in the magazine). Carey came up in roofing, a field he says he’ll work within until he no longer can. He began working for his dad when he was eight. He’s seen it all, from built-up tar to his favored TPO System, and he’s happy with what he’s done, particularly in his immediate neighborhood. The roofing in Carey’s genesdates back to his grandfather Harry Mandel, a native of Austria who first immigrated to Pittsburgh, then went west to Cleveland around 1912. Trained in sheet metal, Harry was a “tinner” and steeplejack who did slate work and fancy metal work — and mentored Joe Carey’s father Joseph, who took over the commercial end of the business when Harry retired. (Joe Carey’s uncle, Michael Toth, took over the residential portion.) Carey, who now is schooling his operations-minded son Patrick in the business, took over in 1976, abandoning a promising career quite far afield. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology from The Ohio State University, and in the early 1970s seemed headed toward that profession. He enjoyed studying under Walter Reckless, a notedcriminologist whose violin playing appealed to Al Capone. Reckless got Carey his first job, but he quit the field when an administrator at the Ohio Department of Corrections essentially ordered him to tailor his research findings to results she wanted. “I learned at a very young age of thehypocrisy of the world,” Carey says. The family business looked particularly ready for his talents. A changing neighborhood When Joe Carey established himself on East 55th, Cleveland was flush with roofing work. Carey felt he was in the right place, at the right time. Now the situation isn’t as sunny ironically, perhaps, due to Carey’s success with Maingate. “Probably 60% of my potential customers within a 10-mile radius are gone,” he says, citing a TRW valve plant at 65th Street and Cedar Road that no longer exists. Still, he says, “when I started here in ’76, this was ideal. The neighborhood was real rough. I had a lot of trouble here. But as far as the location was concerned, it was golden. I mean within five miles, I had thousands of potential customers – and that’s all gone. It’s pretty much all gone.” At the same time, what remains in an area bounded by East 55th Street, Woodland, Orange and Broadway Avenues is much healthier and safer than it was when Carey became founding president of Maingate Development, perhaps the only community development corporation in Cleveland to focus exclusively on business. The year was 1985 and the mayor was George Voinovich. A community meeting organized by the city’s Department of Economic Development drew 400 people, Carey recalls. It was the start of Maingate. Over the years, Maingate has helped local businesses handle issues including security and blight. It’s been successful, he says. Which means it’s no longer that active. “It’s much different than it was when I first moved here,” he says. “It was like Dodge City. There was just no police protection; it was just every man for himself. And I think its improvement is a result of the group. I don’t see anything else causing it. We cleaned up whatever we could clean up. We were problem-solvers.” The Carey method Carey acquires jobs directly from small to medium-sized manufacturing companies by way of conversations with their owners. In a one-on-one situation, he says, he will get the work. “We never did work for larger companies,” he says. “You deal with some guy in purchasing or something and you could spend an awful lot of time and get nothing out of it. Nine times out of 10, if a small to medium-sized manufacturer is serious about doing their work, once I’d get in the room with the owner I’d get the job. Because it was personal.” Most Carey Roofing business is repeat. As for a specialty, Carey says, it’s tackling “the jobs other people don’t want. I always enjoyed the challenge of difficult jobs. It was more interesting to me and I had a huge amount of experience. I’ll be 69 years old and I literally have 60 years of experience. I was up on the roof working with my father. He paid me $1.50 an hour in 1958, which was pretty good then. Because I worked.” Carey likes challenges, citing structural roofing work at Victory White Metal on Roland Avenue, an old foundry building where a section “just collapsed. They didn’t know what to do and they needed the space. I ended up jacking it back into position and putting a roof on it for them.” “It’s more of a methodology and understandingof what’s going on than really high-tech equipment,” he says. “You use 20- to 40-ton jacks and you can jack up almost anything if you do it properly. I enjoy the challenge of that kind of stuff, and we do a lot of structural work.” Keeping to tradition Carey doesn’t cite milestones in his career, nor does he tout relative innovations, like solar panels that may work for individual residences but also may be questionable for commercial purposes given the Cleveland climate. Some jobs stand out, though. Carey did the roofing for the 24-story Superior Building at East 9th Street and Superior Avenue 30 years ago. It also did roofing work on Erieview and the Galleria, both on 9th. And it did roofing for the oil companies: Standard Oil, Shell, BP. “And then that business went because there are no gas stations left,” Carey laments, noting that 50 years ago, “every major intersection had four gas stations. One would be Shell, one would be Sohio, one would be something else. It was a huge business within a 30-mile drive; between Standard Oil and Shell, there would be 5,000 gas stations. We used to do a third of them every year. It was wonderful.”Slow transformation Carey is a realist. He’s also a dreamer who built his business “into something worthwhile” in the early ’80s. He says there is nothing that sexy about Carey Roofing, Carey Demolition and Maingate, but there are deeper satisfactions. “I live in the world of everyday businesses and always looked at my role as trying to help people on my level,” he says. “It was nothing that anybody would be excited about but I enjoyed it because there usually were challenges.” Maingate “really is not directly related to the business here, but personally we’ve done a lot of good. This neighborhood is not a garden spot; I’m not saying it is, but if you went back 40 years and then see what it is now, it’s a completely different world here.” Carey Roofing, too, has helped businesses carry on, providing practical, worthwhile solutions, he says. “We had to have something that was reasonably priced and would give some value,” he says. “I don’t buy the Cadillac, I buy the Chevy. It’s not necessarily stylish, but we’re in an area that has been hard-hit by all kinds of things, and helping people stay in business makes me feel good.”

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