Thousands of businesses in and around the park need to make succession plans.
By Melissa Hart
Deep in the Adirondacks, a longtime institution recently underwent a quiet transition.
Donna and Tom Amoroso of the Leather Artisan on Route 3 in Childwold, between Cranberry Lake and Tupper Lake, had been making and selling leather purses, wallets, and other products for over 40 years when they inadvertently landed into a succession plan for the business.
It started about three years ago, when Tom Amoroso was joking with a customer about selling his business. Employee Broyce Guerette overheard and later approached him about buying. After a series of discussions, a transition plan was put into place, with Broyce and his wife, Allison, learning the ins and outs of making the products and running the shop.
As part of the transition, the Amorosos leased the business to their successors, and stayed on to work side-by-side through the summer. “It gave me some time to work with them to make sure everything was working just fine. We definitely wanted them to succeed,” Tom said.
After months of preparation, the Guerettes, who are both 23 and graduated Tupper Lake Central School together, closed on the property this fall. The Amorosos, both in their 70s, have officially retired and moved to Pennsylvania.
For Allison Guerette, the mentoring proved invaluable. “Tom and Donna really helped us out, and made it very easy to take over,” she said, adding that the timing worked out perfectly, with the Guerettes getting settled in and welcoming their first child in November.
As Baby Boomers continue their wave into retirement, many small “mom-and-pop” businesses that occupy the main streets in Adirondack communities will be part of a “silver tsunami,” and not all of the transitions will go as smoothly as the Leather Artisan’s did.
Nationally, while more than half of small business owners expect to retire in the next 10 years, fewer than 15 percent have an exit plan in place. That was one of the findings in this winter’s Regional Economic Analysis for the Adirondack North Country report, a yearlong research project spearheaded by the Adirondack North Country Association and other organizations to get a current snapshot of the makeup of the region’s economy and key drivers.
Research revealed there are 45,633 businesses in the 14-county Adirondack North Country region, which spills out of the park on its northern and western flanks. Taking into account demographic trends, at least 10,000 of those business owners could be getting ready to retire in the next few years. With fewer members of the next generations moving up the ranks, communities could see a serious decline in the number of small businesses, which translates visually into more empty storefronts. Compared to national averages, the greater Adirondack region has 9 percent more Baby Boomers but 4 percent fewer Millennials.
To address the issue, ANCA pulled together partner organizations across the region to form the Adirondack North Country Center for Businesses in Transition. A $248,364 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) in July 2018 helped get the center off the ground, funding workshop development and outreach.
According to ANCA staffer and center coordinator Danielle Delaini, one of the center’s goals is to foster the next generation of business owners: people like the Guerettes. “It’s all about helping people find opportunities for growth and success, finding people who are at risk for leaving, and getting them jobs that will keep them here.”
In the weeks leading up to the center’s launch in January, they received more than 40 inquiries, both from businesses looking to sell and would-be entrepreneurs looking for opportunities.
One of those business owners ready to sell is Kathy Recchia, who, along with her husband, Fred Balzac, owns the Book and Blanket bed and breakfast in Jay. After more than 25 years running their literary-themed accommodations, they are looking to relocate to Saranac Lake, where they recently bought a home closer to Recchia’s new job at BluSeed Studios.
Recchia hopes that working with the business transition center can help connect them to the right buyer.
“When buying our new home, we were fortunate to find a house before it even went on the market. If something like that happens with our B&B, that’d be great,” she said. For Delaini, the stakes are a bit higher, for if the B&B sells through a realtor to someone only interested in a single-family dwelling, then Jay loses a key business. Still, she acknowledged, the ultimate decisions are up to the owner.
“We are playing the role of introducing options, providing education about first steps and connecting folks to area resources,” Delaini said.