Remember the one about the guy who tried to sell the Brooklyn Bridge?
This time, the guy is for real.
The guy is Lou Pabon--construction worker, bouncer, entrepreneur.
Tarnished cable that once stretched like so many gossamer strands of the Brooklyn Bridge now lies in a heap about a mile away from the bridge. It is Pabon’s plan to untwirl this giant mound of steel spaghetti and cut it into 3-inch paperweights ($30-$40) and larger brass-, silver- and gold-plated wall plaques ($150 and up).
“They will come with a letter of authenticity, on very fine parchment, suitable for framing,” he said. “This is going to be hotter than the Pet Rock.”
You laugh? Customers already have phoned in orders to Pabon’s Brooklyn Bridge Commemorative Corp.--the number is toll-free, just like the bridge--as he advertises for a marketing expert who can route the conversation pieces to a national audience. If all goes as Pabon plans, he hopes to pocket more than $1 million for his troubles.
And nobody knows the troubles Pabon has seen since he hatched the idea last year. “I was driving over the bridge and I saw iron workers taking down some of the cable,” the 36-year-old Brooklyn resident recalled. “That’s when it all fell into place. The idea went off in my head like a light bulb.” “Look,” he added. “I’m a construction worker during the day, I’m the (superintendent) in my apartment building, and I’ve been a weekend bouncer for 12 years at Dangerfield’s comedy club. Like Rodney, I’m looking for a little respect.”
Here is a guy who first tried his hand at selling jewelry, then flowers, before committing to his last dream venture, a food truck in New York’s Wall Street area.
After many late nights of buttering bagels and cooking sausage, Pabon lost his curbside location to a string of new parking meters. So he sold his truck and went back into construction.
“When he came home and told me about the Brooklyn Bridge idea, I said, ‘Here we go again,’ ” said Irene Pabon, Lou’s wife. “But the more he talked about it, the better it sounded.”
“If you listen to Lou long enough, anything seems plausible,” said Tommy Galda, a 35-year-old New York club owner who became Pabon’s partner.
The Pabons are so confident of a score that they have plowed into the enterprise most of their $40,000 profit from the sale of a Bronx apartment building that Pabon and Galda had purchased at a city auction. Each man has spent about $30,000 to gather the cable and prepare for manufacturing. Although the Pabons were going to put their money toward the purchase of a house, they and their two young sons will continue to occupy a crowded, one-bedroom apartment, hoping that the bridge souvenirs will pay for more than just a starter home.
Had to Attain Cables
For Pabon, the first big task was getting his hands on the hundreds of thick, century-old, suspension cables.
They are being replaced by Nab Construction Corp., under a contract with the city of New York. A foreman on the job first told Pabon that he could have the stuff for what it would command as scrap (about 1.5 cents a pound) plus removal costs. But that was not what Pabon had in mind. He wanted to acquire the cable in such a way that its origins as part of John A. Roebling’s famous suspension bridge would never be questioned.
He called Edward Simpson, the president of Nab. Technically, the cable that Nab workers have been replacing belonged to Simpson, because the city had declined a contractual option to keep the souvenir material for itself (If the city had accepted the option, it would have been obliged to pay Nab an additional $1 million on the $50-million-plus renovation project).
Simpson told Pabon that he had decided to keep the cable. “I couldn’t accept that,” Pabon recalled. Redialing Simpson a few minutes later, Pabon asked the executive to spare 15 minutes to hear his pitch in person. Simpson invited him over.
As Pabon, an employee of Naclerio Construction Co., remembers it, he raced from his own work site, in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn, to Simpson’s office, in the College Point section of Queens. Dust rose from his jeans as he sat down in front of the suited executive.
“I was skeptical,” Simpson said. “Lou looked like a worker, not a promoter.”
Simpson told him that it would be difficult to make a profit. And he knew what he was talking about. The Nab president had already mounted a few pieces of cable as souvenirs for his own customers, at a cost of about $50 apiece; he didn’t see a way of cutting those costs.
But Simpson did say he would entertain a proposal.
Huddling with Galda, who has worked in real estate and knew something about proposals, Pabon drafted a plan offering Simpson 20% of the profits from the enterprise in exchange for the cable, and paper work stating that this is indeed the cable that his company is taking from the Brooklyn Bridge. Simpson agreed.
Since striking the deal, Pabon’s boss, Joey Naclerio, has lent Pabon the equipment needed to remove the cable from the storage area near the bridge.
Pabon pays the labor costs on each load. Then there is the rental of the lot where he is storing the stuff and the adjoining building where Pabon and Galda hope to cut the cable with a band saw and then mount the pieces in Plexiglas. An outside company has been contracted to manufacture the plaques.
Pabon is thinking big. He has about 20,000 feet of cable stored away right now.
Let’s see, he said: 10,000 feet will be divided into 40,000 plaques. By charging $150 and up per plaque, Pabon figures to gross more than $6 million. Then, after subtracting manufacturing costs of about $35 per unit ($1.4 million), and giving 20% of the profits to Nab ($920,000), he will have around $3.68 million to split with Galda.
“Go down to Wall Street,” he said. “Who would say that spending $1.4 million to make $6 million is a bad deal?”
And that $6 million projection does not take into account the other 10,000 feet of cable, which he expects to split into 40,000 paperweights, at $35 to $40 each, as a start-up seller.
The numbers sound fine. Just one question: What if the whole thing flops?
“I’d rather take a shot and go bankrupt than not take a shot at all,” Galda said.
And Lou? “I don’t see it flopping, but if it does, it doesn’t matter, because I’m already satisfied that I have overcome so many obstacles to get where I am,” he said. “I put a lot together--the contract with Nab, getting the cable and the rest of it.”
In fact, he even looks to writing one of those motivational books after he succeeds. “If you have a determination to see something through, there’s bound to be some level of success,” he said.
Roebling himself couldn’t have put it better.