Harry Gracey of Harry Gracey Floor Sanding stands by his truck on Feb. 26 in front of his Delhi home. Harry Gracey of Harry Gracey Floor Sanding stands by his truck on Feb. 26 in front of his Delhi home.

Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Harry Gracey of Harry Gracey Floor Sanding in Delhi.

How long have you lived in the area?

I have lived here my entire life except when I served in the military.

Tell me about your business:

I sand and refinish wood floors. This may be a complete sanding and three coats of polyurethane, or a scuff and re-coat for floors that need a touch-up. I do minor repair work on wood floors as well.

Describe a typical day in your business:

It depends on the day, but typically the first few days of a week will be sanding and preparation work at a job. The mid- or later part of the week is applying polyurethane until midday. Depending on where I am working, I usually try to arrange meetings with new customers in the area that I am in, talking with them about what floor work I recommend and giving them estimates.

How did you get started in this line of work?

In the early 1980s, I started working at painting with some sanding work but eventually it was more about sanding than anything else. I like doing sanding and eventually I had enough experience that I decided to start my own business that was focused on wood flooring. I can still doing painting _ the skill has not been lost, but I seldom do it anymore.

Where do you see this business in five years?

I hope to still be in business; that would mean that there is enough work and that I am still physically fit to do it.

Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:

I have worked on some very beautiful floors that were memorable to transform to their original or even better than original beauty, but there is one funny, memorable story that happened while I was working one day. I was busy sanding a floor at a client's home where they had cats that they did not want loose while I was there, so they had put the animals into an enclosed basement. As I worked away, a movement caught my eye, and I saw a cat's head pop out of the floor where I had removed a duct cover. Somehow the cat had made its way through the duct system and crawled up to see what was going on. Neither the owners nor I know how that cat was able to do what it had done.

What have you learned from your work?

I have learned that being reliable is very important; I have earned some of my biggest jobs because someone else that was originally contracted didn't show up. I have also learned from meeting lots of people and I have learned about local history by way of the floors that were made during different eras. In the 1800s and early 1900s, people used higher-quality, smaller-width wood for floors downstairs where visitors would be, and wider, more rough cuts for upstairs. Being able to identify a builder's skill decades after their work was done and many things about the quality of different wood make this very interesting work.

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

The challenge is mostly faced by my knees and back. This is tough work that takes a toll on knees and back every day and over the long haul.

The most enjoyable?

The satisfied customers when they see a once-ugly floor turned beautiful.

How do you define success for your business?

Happy customers and more customers that learn about me by word of mouth, that means that people I have done work for really like it and are telling their friends about me: that's success.

What are some advantages and drawbacks of doing business in this area?

One of the many advantages of doing my type of business in this area is that there are many beautiful old homes here with beautiful wood floors over 150 years old. These floors are unique and have a different level of craftsmanship. There are plenty of old houses with floors that need work when the owners are ready to have it done.

The drawbacks of doing business here is the rough economy and slow housing market.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

I am reliable and patient, which are two very important characteristic to have when it comes to quality floor sanding. I am fussy and have learned to take my time where others may try to rush a job that really cannot be rushed.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?

Begin by learning from someone who is very good and experienced. If you decide that you like this type of work, buy the very best knee pads that money can buy, along with the best dust mask and ear protection you can find. These will keep you able to work, because injuries are down time.

Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Terry Hannum. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or e-mail news@thedailystar.com.

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