By Lori Van Ingen
Mount Joy refinishing firm finds eager customers among churches here and nationwide
Section: BUSINESS MONDAY
Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, PA)
Published: June 7, 2004
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Churches all over the United States face the same problem - where to get church furniture restored to its original lustre.
Much of it end up in Mount Joy at Fredrick & Emily's Restoration.
"We have 12, 15, 20 churches' furniture in-house at the same time," co-owner and president Fredrick Taggart said.
The company was recently awarded the contract for St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, Taggart said. It will begin working on the altar this summer and on the pews in January.
Since the cathedral has eight Masses a day and the cathedral won't be closed during renovation, Fredrick & Emily's will do the pews in eight phases over eight to nine months, Taggart said. Doing it this way is rare, he said, since most churches shut down the sanctuary while the pews are being worked on.
Besides St. Patrick's, Fredrick & Emily's has worked with churches from Boston to Georgia and New Orleans.
"There's no place in the country we won't go," Taggart said.
Locally, the company has worked with such churches as Covenant United Methodist, where it changed the layout of pews and reworked the walls and pulpit; First Presbyterian, where it worked on the balcony pews; and Lititz Church of the Brethren, where it refinished the chapel pews.
The firm's 18 full-time and 21 part-time employees work on the projects in various stages of completion.
The projects are started by stripping the furniture.
"A few then go straight to sanding, but that's rare," Taggart said.
Usually, there's repair work to be done, he said. They can reconfigure pews for handicapped and build parts that need to be replaced.
"Historically, we maintain the basic design of the pew and make it functional to use, making alterations that are the lowest impact to the design. ... Generally we've seen that pew work before. The basic body design is the same, although the detail work might be slightly different," he said.
Many of the historic church pews have seats that are too narrow for congregants because people are getting bigger today, Taggart said. Some are too low to the ground, so the whole pew has to be raised or the layout has to be opened up since it is too close together for the kneelers.
"We are very specialized, so we can do all options. We can change the color, comfort and cushions, but not the whole style of the pew," he said.
Next, the company cleans the wood, sands it and then refinishes it. A recent project was previously painted in two tones on an "old knotty pine, which was never meant to be finished," he said.
That particular project was unusual, according to Taggart.
"Mostly churches have pews that are white paneled with mahogany end caps," he said.
Most jobs take six to eight weeks to complete, Taggart said, "but generally the church doesn't want them back so soon. The pews are the first thing to come out. Then the church works on the ceiling, walls and floor."
Therefore, he said, Fredrick & Emily's generally stores the church furniture for most projects from four to six months.
Fredrick & Emily's is a family-owned business. It was founded by Taggart's father, Don Taggart, who died 10 years ago.
"He had a small refinishing shop, no bigger than our offices," Taggart said. "He did refinishing on the side."
He had worked with some churches over the years, but didn't understand how to "plug into the network," Taggart said.
Taggart, who had played golf professionally, thought he would try his hand at the refinishing business his father started.
Jeff Murphy, who ran divisions of Honeywell and GM, recently became co-owner of the business.
"As we grew from $35,000 per year to $35,000 per week, it became overwhelming," Taggart said. "I was good at growing the company, but needed to bring someone else in. It allows me to be president and focus on sales."
Last year, the company grew by 23 percent. By April it had grown another 60 percent, he said.
"I'm pleased to watch the growth and fortunate to be asked to be a partner," said Murphy, former vice president of manufacturing at the former Cardinal Technologies.
Murphy, who is a lifetime woodworking hobbyist, said what drew him to Fredrick & Emily's was Taggart's vision.
"It's rare to see a person who knows where he wants to see (a company) go," he said.
About three or four years ago, Taggart began working exclusively on church furniture. Restoration of church furniture is a bigger business than new pew work, he said. Churches spend in excess of $100 million per year for restoration, Taggart said, citing a Wall Street Journal article.
During church renovations, congregations often overlook the need for renovating its pews, Taggart said.
"Pews need refinished the same as paint on walls and new carpet," Taggart said.
Tell-tale signs that church pews need to be restored, Taggart said, are Sticky pews. "The finish chemically breaks down and wears out, like shingles on a roof after 30 years," Taggart said. After the chemical breaks down, the wood cracks, splits, dries and shrinks since it's not sealed correctly, he said.
Splits in the seats.
Color that is worn off or dated.
Cap rails in the back or arm that have light or dark spots from lotion, perfume and dirt on hands which get embedded in it. "The dirt is in the finish and not on it. You have to strip the finish off," he said.