After years of squabbles with neighbors, town officials, even his own lawyer, Bernie Schaeffer's patience finally has paid off.
Schaeffer's plastics company, U.S. Health Equipment Co., has found a home in a former AT&T facility buil t during the Cold War to withstand a nuclear attack. Usheco spent $300,000 to buy, renovate and equip the 40,000-square-foot building.
The hassles have kept Usheco landlocked for years, unable to seek new business for the thermoform ing and injection molding company. Usheco serves customers in the rehabilitation industry, specializing in products for handicapped children.
``It's been a killer,'' Schaeffer said of his ordeal. ``It almost put us out of business.''
At times during the past 15 years, Schaeffer, a World War II veteran, must have felt he needed a nuclear-proof bomb shelter for his 12-employee company. In the 1980s, he wanted to expand his factory in Rosendale, N.Y., but he ran into objections from residential neighbors, who feared ``dangerous'' gases from the factory. The city blocked the expansion.
Then Schaeffer bought a 17,000-square-foot building in nearby Esopus, N.Y. He never got to use it. Schaeffer said his lawyer misread a zoning law and assumed the building's ``commercial'' designation was the same as ``light industrial.''
Schaeffer ended up suing the lawyer. A jury found the lawyer guilty of malpractice. Unfortunately for Usheco, the jury refused to award monetary damages. The company appealed and won a new trial, scheduled to start in November.
``Thirteen-and-a-half years ago I bought that building,'' Schaeffer said. ``The justice system in this co untry is terrible. When you think that O.J. [Simpson] got justice in a little over a year, and I'm waiting 131/2 years — and I'm an honest person; I'm not a murderer — it's bizarre.
Now Schaeffer wants to put the hard times behind him. About 125 people attended Usheco's open house July 11. Schaeffer, who got burned by people's fear of plastics before, made sure he invited neighbors to tour the unique building, which acted as a switching station for defense communications. The two-story, concrete structure has steel-reinforced, 1-foot-thick walls.
``There are no windows in this building. It has two ventilation systems, two air-conditioning systems. They spared no expense.''
Schaeffer said interest in the building is high.
``The amazing thing is that, even though they live directly across the street from this plant, these neighbors had lived here for 20, 30 and 40 years and had never been in the building.''
Visitors toured Usheco's production area. Usheco customers displayed their products.
Schaeffer is preparing for new business, now that he finally has more space.
``We had not looked for work in 15 years, mostly because we were too crowded,'' he said.
Some of the business may result from the imagination of Schaeffer himself. Schaeffer has invented some unusual things. He has a patent pending on a coil, like a giant, plastic Slinky, to fit under manhole covers and raise them level to the street. He created a thermoformed picture frame with integral ``canvas'' for painting on molded-in mountains and scenery.
Schaeffer is ready t o begin production of another invention: lightweight sheets that gain structural strength from a simple egg-carton-shaped design. Usheco had to pass up an order for $100,000 worth of the panels from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. because it was unable to make them large enough, he said. But that has changed.
``Absolutely,'' he said. ``That's one of the first things we're going to do.''