Brooklynites in Florida: Brother/Sister team from Brooklyn manufacture saw blades in Naples
Josephine and Vincent Farengo are a Brooklyn-born brother and sister team who own Everlast Saw & Carbide Tools in Naples, Florida. Born two years apart, Josephine Farengo was born at Methodist Hospital in 1943 and Vincent was born at Madison Park Hospital on Kings Highway in 1945. They grew up together in a two family house in Flatbush, at 1529 East 10th Street between Avenues O and P.
In a recent conference call interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, they talked enthusiastically about their respective memories of their childhoods in Brooklyn during the 1950s, and how they have kept a family business thriving for well over 50 years.
“As I recall it through a kid’s eyes,” Vincent said, “it was one of the best places in the world to grow up at that time. On our street alone there were so many cultures represented, German, Jewish, Italian, us Americans, you name it and everybody got along.”
Josephine added, “there were always someone’s parents around keeping an eye on the kids. It was safe, the true and classic sense of what a neighborhood should be like.”
Vincent politely interjected, “it was a different world then. Today you get the impression that nobody can really get along with anybody. I can remember witnessing only one fight during all my childhood in Brooklyn.”
Josephine remembered the big backyards and the gardens. “Everybody had a big back yard and their own gardens. My grandfather, who lived with us, maintained the giant garden in our backyard.” Vincent (politely) interjected again. “Yes, we had a large peach tree next to the kitchen window where we could get very large peaches in season any time we wanted.”
Josephine said that her mother used to prepare bags of fresh vegetables from their grandfather’s garden, and Josephine and Vincent would deliver the bags to the family friends along the block.
During the interview, Vincent sounded genuinely more baffled than either nostalgic or cynical when talking about how different it used to be, as he would offer impromptu comments. “We’ve advanced in technology and in many other ways, I think that’s great. Business today depends on advanced technologies. But in terms of family relations and basic getting-along-with-people skills, I don’t think society advanced much after the 1950s like it was in Brooklyn then. You get the impression that most kids today are forced to learn how to be isolated (he laughed). It looks like all they know how to do is text.”
Vincent and Josephine’s father, Pat Farengo, worked as a foreman in the steel department for a company called Lafayette Saw & Knife. When carbide was invented Vincent said his father set up a carbide equipment division for the company.
While still working at Lafayette Saw & Knife their father also set up his own tool service shop in the basement of their home that he called Everlast Saw & Grinding Works. Later, in 1950, his father wanted to officially start his own business, so he moved his basement operations to a building at 1144 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, then incorporated the business as Everlast Saw & Carbide Tools, Inc. Their mother kept the books for the business. Josephine said when Vincent was about five years old he used to sweep the shop floor and dream about working for the company.
The business kept growing and their father had to move the operations to larger buildings, first to a building at 203 Franklin Street, then after moving in 1963 to a 2000 square foot building just west of Utica Avenue on Avenue N and East 51st Street, the business finally settled into a 5,500 square foot building out on Long Island in West Babylon. Everlast Saw & Carbide Tools would remain there until the move in 1998 to an 8,000 square foot building in Naples.
Back in the 1960s, after graduating from LIU-Brooklyn, Josephine taught in the public school system but decided to leave and find a job teaching in a Catholic school. When she couldn’t find a teaching job she took a job as an inside insurance adjuster for Aetna. When she tried to become an outside adjuster she said she ran into something that would be unheard of today. She asked Aetna for an outside adjuster position but was told that women weren’t allowed to be outside adjusters.
She became disenchanted with the insurance business, for obvious reasons, so in the late 1960s Josephine started working in the office for her father at Everlast.
Vincent was already working for his father at Everlast and going to night school at New York City Community College where he studied mechanical engineering.
After their father died in 1974, Vincent took over the company.
Later, in 1992 Vincent started spending his family vacations in Naples. The business in New York continued to grow while every year he would return to Naples.
He eventually got tired of the snow and bitter cold winters in New York, and became addicted to the Florida climate. One day Vincent thought to himself: “Why go back up to New York after every trip…I like the area and the weather so much, why not just live here in Naples?”
So he built a home in Naples and convinced Josephine to move to Florida and she lived in the condo he and his wife vacated after building their new house. At the same time, Vincent had decided to move the business to Florida.
Not being one to procrastinate; he bought a piece of property, had the building built, and had the whole business moved down to Naples all within one year. Not only did he move his business, he also helped relocate four long-term employees from the shop in West Babylon. “I offered to help them with relocation, you know, entice them to come down,” he said. “They loved the idea of the warmer weather anyway, and I’m a believer in keeping good people, because that’s what makes a company strong.” His current plant foreman in Naples, also a Brooklyn native, has been with Everlast for 43 years.
Everlast Saw & Carbide Tools manufactures over 100 different standard sized saw blades, catering mostly to the wood working, plastics and aluminum industries. Vincent said, “We customize tools, we make the tools according to the material.”
When asked how he keeps a small business successful, Vincent explained, “you have to adapt. After the economic downturn some of our international business left us. Hitachi found cheaper suppliers for their saw blades in Japan, and Bosch did the same in Taiwan. That taught me a lesson in survival though. You have to buy right to sell right. We do get our raw materials from around the world, but build the finished products by using American craftsmen; quality tools made by Americans. Like I said, you have to adapt. For example, we’ve changed production methods 20 times over the past 20 years. I was never one to give up.”
This time Josephine politely interjected and said the company was hit hard by the economic downturn. “Though business is much slower than it used to be, Everlast is still in good financial shape. For the past three years business has increased each year, and we have no debt.”
When asked if they miss Brooklyn, Vincent replied without hesitation. “Of course I do. I know it can’t be, but I wish it was still like those years I grew up there as a kid.”