150 Years Old But, Now We Need Help

My name is Joseph Kavanagh and this is my story. I work at the Joseph Kavanagh Company. We just call it the Shop. The Shop was started in 1866 by my great grand uncle of the same name. He started the business as a coppersmith. They did a variety of copper work. Quite a bit for the distilling industries but also plumbing applications and others. The business is over 150 years old now. We are still here but, times are tough. The company made it through the depression and other lean times. We've done a lot of work over those 150 years. We are metal benders now. The coppersmith industry is all but dead. The work dwindled down in the 50's and we started bending and rolling of metal. Not just copper but, steel, aluminum and almost any alloy. We do small jobs perhaps someone needs a boat rail or shower curtain bent as well as larger jobs. We've down some work on projects as big as Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a long time ago, we even did the cladding on one of the feet of the Statue of Liberty. It's a business that won't make anyone rich but, it supported my family for 5 generations and it's been a source of pride for it's longevity.
     The problem really now is that the recession that hit the US was pretty devastating for us. The volume of work went way down and in order to keep things rolling, we had to take on some debt. Personal and business debt is a problem. The work has started to come back and it's getting better. However, the debt is overwhelming. It's just too much. Presently, my sister and I own the business and my nephews work for us. We had several other employees but, we lost them a couple years ago. We just couldn't pay them enough or guarantee enough hours for them. So, now it's an all Kavanagh outfit. That's fine. We can get the work out. We just can't get out of this hole.
     There just seems to be a lot working against us. My brother was our partner but about 5 years ago, he passed away suddenly. It was as devastating as losing a sibling would be for anyone. His boys work here and that's a good thing. My brother worked hard and was a good man. He was amazingly skilled at what we do. His death was sudden. He had cancer but, by all accounts it was treatable. He had surgery which though serious was not supposed to be life threatening. It was worse than anticipated. He never made it out of recovery. My sister and I miss him greatly. A lot of days I could swear I still see him here. His presence and absence are keenly felt. I sometimes feel like I couldn't even properly grieve him. The next day after his death my sister and I had to come to work to call about 50 people each and tell them of his death. It's part of owning a family business but, not one of the good parts, obviously.
     When you own a family business, you can't always separate the two. The family and the business in some ways are one. I have a 19 year old son. I wish he could work here but, he has autism. I hope some day he can have a job and be able to help himself to some degree. If he does, it would have to be a job of the simplest nature and with a great deal of supervision. He can not work here though. It would be dangerous and ill-advised. We've fought with Social Security to get the disability he qualifies for. He is approved now but, that took over a year. Now, he is due some back benefits but, that is spaced out over a year before you get it all. It's not much but that money would certainly help and it will. It's just taking longer then we thought it would. It isn't a lot but, he deserves it and this will help him in the long run if he ever can achieve independence. On the other side of the coin are my parents. My father is 93 and he worked here for many years. He gave his heart and soul to this place and his family. The picture is of him with our sign from about 15 years ago. He's the finest man I've ever known. He's a navy Vet. We're working on getting his VA benefits but, that also takes a lot of time apparently.  My mother is 88 and has dementia now. She's the most loving person you could ever meet. Unfortunately now, she suffers from memory loss and at times doesn't know her children or where she is. They require some nursing care. We have a large family so that helps. Still, they need nursing and this costs a great deal. If the Shop was doing better, well that would be a more manageable issue. It's not.
     I keep trying to find a solution. I think of it day and night. I just want to keep this thing going, take care of my family and pay the bills. I don't think I can anymore. We've got this old business in a modern world. We've got autism, dementia and death all hitting at the same time. Some days I feel 150 years of pressure barreling down on me like a freight train. I know this sounds like I am whining and complaining. I'm just being honest. I wish I could figure this thing out but, I think it's beyond me. I love this place. This shop. Sure, I hate it too. It's busting my ass and making me broke. Still, there is something about it. The independence , the history, who knows. It's pretty amazing to be a part of something that is certainly bigger then I am. Something that's been a constant for so long. It's gratifying and humbling in a way. People are always telling me how incredible it is to be around for 150 years. I don't think it matters to the government or the banks. Not by my experience anyway but, people seem to like it. It's been a great honor to work here despite the financial problems. Something about it makes me love it. Perhaps, it's my Dad. Maybe my brother. I don't know. I wish I was a man like my Dad. Maybe he could solve it. I talk to him every day. He likes to hear about the Shop. I tell him the good but, skimp on the bad. I can't face the idea of telling him how bad it is or worse still, to tell him I have failed and we are going out of business. I can't even think about it. I should have found a way but, I haven't. Failure is a scary thing. Hell, being broke is a scary thing and my son's disability is a scary thing. I worry so much for him, for all of us. I wish I could go back and.... well figure it out or sell the business or never work here even though that would have broken my Dad's heart. I just wish I had a solution. I worry we are becoming obsolete . Knowing how to bend metal is still useful. I know that much. We just might need to make some changes. I'm not afraid of change. It's part of the whole deal of life. The Shop has changed and adapted before and we could again. I think we can find a way. I really do.
     Besides losing the business, houses are on the line. I wish it was just mine but, it's not. My sister's and my brother's homes are threatened too. My nephews live with their mother. I am sure they would love to move out and move forward with their lives. However, they work at the Shop. They do not make much money. They are two fine young men. They are helping their mom out and will do that always. My sister has been the rock of the business for the last few years. She works harder then anyone I've ever met. She's always searching and trying to find ways to save money or make money. We just have too much debt.
     So, the money. We need help. I need help. I can't really tell you why you should help us. Everyone has problems but, I have to try. So, I am asking for help. Money. That's what I am asking for. $ 150,000. That's a lot of money. I know. That's not going to pay the debts. Believe me. But, that's enough to get on top of it. To secure the future, to let us just work and try to focus on the Shop. We can really take a good shot at this, to learn, to adapt if necessary. If the Shop goes out of business but, we still have homes, there is some solace in that. It's $1,000 per year of existence. There's a certain symmetry to that which seems to fit. If this works and somehow people help us and we get this money, Well, we can give it an honest try again. I can't guarantee we'll stay open. At some point, you just can't fight the world. I hate the idea of it but, I have to be realistic.I don't want to go down with the Shop and I sure don't want to take the rest of the family with me. I would prefer the end of the Shop be an ending that is anticipated with some sadness then to be something we dread. If it ends, I want it to be in some way on our terms.
     This is a lot of money though and I don't expect any one to give too much. That's too much to ask. So, here is my idea. If I could get 10,000 people to give $ 15.00 each. That would do it. I don't know 10,000 people. Not even close but, I can try to get the ball rolling. I am dreading it but, I suppose linking this to facebook is the
way to go. I can start with folks I know and see what happens. Anything is possible and 15 bucks isn't so bad. That's $ 1.00 per decade of the Shop's existence. Again, that seems fitting in some way.
     I've been writing this over about six weeks as I can. It's not an easy thing to do. To say, " I have failed and I don't know what to do." I try not to think what my family and friends will think after reading this. It's embarassing but, I don't have the luxury of caring about that anymore.I certainly hope no one tells my father about it. He's old so the chances of him seeing this online are zero which is good. I always thought at least I had a certain amount of honor. But not now. I have no choice. I live in fear of the day there's this choice of losing the Shop or my house. That will be a tough choice. As things are now, well, losing both seems a likely scenario. Again, I wish I could fix it. I really do. Honor and integrity go out the window when you are trying to survive so to hell with it. What good is honor anyway. You can't eat it.
     Thank you very much for reading my story and all the gratitude I can muster to anyone who helps us. Thank you.

Donations ()

  • Mark Luken 
    • $200 
    • 30 mos
  • Melanie Morton 
    • $50 
    • 30 mos
  • Catherine Beck 
    • $30 
    • 30 mos
  • Elizabeth Kavanagh  
    • $100 
    • 31 mos
  • Dorothy Paugh 
    • $50 
    • 31 mos
See all

Organizer

Joseph Kavanagh 
Organizer
Dundalk, MD
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