GRAMERCY — David Stanger's family once owned a chain of 21 carpet stores in the New York area. His father started the business with a partner in 1969, and the chain’s slogan was: “It’s like having an uncle in the carpet business.”
“It’s cute,” said Stanger, who took over the business and the tagline from his father more than a decade ago. “It was pretty well-known at one time.”
The slogan remains, but the chain has been whittled down to one store on East 23rd Street in Gramercy, run by Stanger and now called Manhattan Carpet & Flooring, and another in Scarsdale, run by his brother.
Stanger, 56, has been part of the family business since he was 15 years old, working weekends, holidays and summers for his father.
“I still remember having to unload trucks by hand. It’s back-breaking work,” recalled Stanger, who was born in Nyack and now lives on the Upper West Side.
Stanger tried to branch out into a career in advertising after college, but after five years, he ended up back with his father, selling carpeting.
Since then, Stanger has helped the business rack up a string of loyal customers and interesting encounters.
There was the woman with the Fifth Avenue apartment and a separate studio just for her dog. Stanger was called in to replace the carpeting in the dog’s apartment twice before he stopped going back. The room was filthy, he recalled, and it smelled.
There was the strip club that always paid cash for its carpeting, and the celebrities, who Stanger declined to name.
Then there was the time he watched one of his employees get shot right in front of him.
It was at his store in Mount Vernon, which he has since sold, and it was the day before Labor Day.
The employee was heading out to do an installation when three young people approached him, Stanger said.
Stanger heard his employee telling the kids to scram, followed by a single shot. The employee came back into the store clutching his stomach, punctured by a bullet. Stanger held his hand and asked if there was any way he could help.
“He goes, ‘You can try calling for an ambulance,’” Stanger recalled, laughing at his own stunned reaction.
At the time, the store was outfitted with rotary phones, and Stanger said his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t dial 911.
The employee eventually recovered physically, but he remained anxious, even after he returned to work.
“We all were,” Stanger said.
In addition to surviving an armed assault, Manhattan Carpet & Flooring can also count surviving the Great Recession among its list of achievements.
The economic turmoil took a toll on the carpet and flooring business in general, Stanger said, and between September 2008 and October 2008, he saw a 50 percent drop in business.
It will likely take years for his store to return to pre-recession highs, but he has begun to see signs of progress.
Sales are up, as is foot traffic, and all that has led to a few extra dollars in their pockets, Stanger said.
Manhattan Carpet & Flooring has scored big clients as well. Last Christmas, Stanger installed 4,400 square yards of blue grass carpet around the ice rink at Bryant Park—a project he would like to do again this year.
Currently, he and his staff are drawing up plans as part of a bid for a two-floor carpet installation in a building at East 38th Street and First Avenue. It could be a huge deal for the company. Stanger knocked on his wooden desk as he discussed the project to bring himself a little good luck.
Although Stanger’s father has moved to Florida and given up his role in daily operations, Stanger said they still speak often. On Monday afternoon, his father called the office. Inevitably, the conversation turned to business.
“He can’t fathom the price of things these days. Different world,” Stanger said.
Stanger has taken the store in a more high-end direction in recent years, stocking expensive options in vinyl and laminate flooring, as well as in carpeting.
Wool carpeting is very expensive and quite popular, Stanger said, as is patterned carpeting and shag area rugs. Woven grass is popular in Hamptons homes, and tone-on-tone is big as well, he added.
His expertise is born of decades dealing in carpets, but Stanger said he isn’t planning to hand the torch off to his two sons. One just graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in film. The other is a junior at the College of Wooster in Ohio.
“I don’t want them to feel like they have to do this,” Stanger said. “This dies with me.”