Keeping The 'Odd' Family Tool Business Sharp Through 3 Generations A father and son reflect how their family has honed toolmaking through three generations at their Brooklyn, N.Y., shop. Despite pandemic stresses, they hope to be in business well into the future.
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Keeping The 'Odd' Family Tool Business Sharp Through 3 Generations

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Keeping The 'Odd' Family Tool Business Sharp Through 3 Generations

Keeping The 'Odd' Family Tool Business Sharp Through 3 Generations

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

This week, StoryCorps is about a small family business. Bianco Brothers Instruments, a tool sharpening company, is owned by twins Joe and Vinny Bianco. They took over the shop from their dad, and now their sons are working with them. Joe and his son Peter talked about what makes their Brooklyn shop special and about the legacy of the original owner.

JOE BIANCO: There's something about it. It's an odd place. It's odd that you walk in and you get to meet a sword swallower and a plastic surgeon and a gynecologist or a dog groomer.

PETER BIANCO: (Laughter) My grandfather, he was handsome. He always smelled like he just got a haircut. He was the kind of guy that would, like, if he knew your name was in a song, he would sing the song.

J BIANCO: He had a very magnetic personality. People just loved him. He would just help out anybody. And he was really tops in his game. Nobody else could do what he did. People relied on his quality of work, and that's what we built the business on. We don't put it down until it's absolutely perfect.

P BIANCO: Doing it for the first time, you're always scared. There's a lot of sparks. You know, the metal gets red hot. You know, being 5 or 6 years old, it's intimidating.

J BIANCO: The hardest part of the craft is the feel of it. It's not through repetition. It's through guidance that you get the feel. Like, lift up that elbow, turn that hand, hold that file differently, pick up your shoulders. You're going to have to do this for 30 years. You can't be slouching. My father had a friend that used to be a sharpener also. And he used to roll up a newspaper and whack me on the side of the head with it. I was 16, I would say, when I went to work for my father. In those days, we wore brown uniforms like UPS. And I was sharpening a scimitar knife for a butcher. And the scimitar knife got stuck in a wheel, flew up in the air, landed in the floor and I was so nervous. I was like, oh, my God, you know, could've killed somebody. And I took the knife out of the floor and I resharpened it. And the customer's like, man, that kid really knows how to sharpen. That's pretty much the one time that I was nervous about the trade.

P BIANCO: Was there a moment when you really fell in love with it?

J BIANCO: I think the first time when a customer came in and asked for me rather than my father. And there'll be a time where they'll want you to do it rather than me, you know, passing of the torch, Pete. And you're getting there, boy.

P BIANCO: (Laughter) Can you think of a time when you got fed up with working with family, either Uncle Vinny or me and John or...

J BIANCO: We got it really good. I mean, we get together. We're happy together, and we're not just family. We're friends, and we work, and we eat lunch. You know, Poppy John had that saying, who's better than us? Nobody.

P BIANCO: Nobody.

J BIANCO: Family businesses are few and far between nowadays.

P BIANCO: Yeah.

J BIANCO: So I really do think that we're blessed.

KING: That was Joe Bianco talking to his son, Peter Bianco, using StoryCorps Connect. That conversation will be archived in the Library of Congress.

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