Monday, August 17, 2009

At the end of the line

Bud Lacey sipped coffee from a cup that he cradled in a pair of rugged hands creased with the telling lines of a man who has spent a lifetime working.

"A lot of the people I knew starting out, they’re all dead now," he said, the brim of a green John Deere baseball cap casting a shadow from the top of his forehead to the bottom of his salt-and-pepper mustache.

He was born in 1940 and raised in the Westchester County city of White Plains, the product of parents who were married on Long Island during the Great Depression.

As a young man in his 20s during the ’60s, he decided to move his own family north to the village of Greenwich, where he found an old dress factory that sat just off Main Street. He would stake his claim to the American Dream, servicing and selling typewriters, furniture and other office supplies. The building’s asking price: $25,000.

"I started that business with nothing," he recalled, striking up business contracts with schools, government agencies and doctor offices that stretched across Saratoga and Washington and Warren counties.

After 20 years of mortgage payments, the building was his.

"It became a pretty lucrative business," he said.

Things were starting to change, however. The electronic age was creeping in.

"As things went on, I could see the overall picture. I could see that business was getting worse," he said. "I saw it coming in at first with the electronic adding machine. Then everything went electronic. When the computers came in, my business started dying."

After 40 years in business, he was still doing well enough to be able to plunk down $15,000 on materials for building repair in 2007.

Then business dropped off, fuel prices spiked to the point where it became unaffordable to heat the building in the winter and the recession swept in like an angry ghost.

Today, many of the building’s windows are covered with plywood and pieces of its wounded exterior lay crumbled on the sidewalk behind sections of yellow tape.

There are 485 sheets of 16-feet long metal roofing and more than 5,000 board feet of lumber that was purchased to rehab the building that sit and wait — untouched.

"I haven’t made a dime in over a year," Lacey said, shaking his head.

He owes $5,000 in back taxes — about a year’s worth of taxes on the property that is assessed at $125,000 — even as Lacey said he was told by a Realtor he would be lucky to get $25,000 for the building if he sold it.

In late June, Lacey received a letter from the village of Greenwich that ordered him to "fix it by Sept. 1 or else," he said.

"I’m just a little guy and they’re flushing me down the toilet. I’m so embarrassed about the whole thing."

Despite decent credit, he said he has been unable to secure a bank loan and on Thursday he was told by an attorney whose advice he sought at the Legal Aid Society that he had three options.

"They told me: Sell it, fix it or let them take it on back taxes."

Forty years down the road, he was beside himself trying to comprehend how everything had gone so wrong.

"There’s no place to go and no one to help. I’m going to be 70 years old," he said, the brim of the baseball cap casting a long shadow over his face.

"How much time do I have left? What do you do? I’m losing everything."

Saratoga Bureau writer Thomas Dimopoulos can be reached at
published Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009