Former car salesman becomes attorney, and back to salesman
GOWANDA — Alan Schaefer’s name is large and prominent at 271 Buffalo Street in the village of Gowanda, but who is Alan Schaefer? Well it matters when you met him. It could have been attorney Alan Schaefer, or author Alan Schaefer, or just Al the mechanic. Or way back as little Alan the paper boy back in the 1970s.
Al, Alan and the in between
“I always had an interest in cars from the time I delivered papers,” said Al Schaefer formerly of Amherst, NY. “When I delivered the Buffalo News back in the ’70s, I used to joke with friends of mine. If a typical 12- or 13-year-old boy opens the paper, if at all, they are opening it up and reading the sports. I would open it up and read the classifieds.”
As Schaefer continued with his life, his love for cars didn’t die down. It was an innate passion of his. In the 1980s, he went into the workforce as a car dealer. It was as close as he could be to fulfill that passion.
He downsized from a car dealership to get his own license. However, it wasn’t the 60-year career he was looking for at the time.
Schaefer added: “Then I went to law school and became a lawyer for 20 years where I practiced law.”
Yes, the old traditional route from car salesman to lawyer. Schaefer began at a large firm where he was one cog of a much bigger machine. That was something that didn’t bode well. In 1998, he transitioned himself from the large corporate world to join Peter Brady as personal injury and auto accident lawyers in the Amherst area.
After the 20 years within the field, Schaefer left to his next endeavor.
“Truthfully, I actually left the practice of law to write. I wanted to write a book. I wrote two, but I couldn’t get them published,” he said. “I did get two where I dotted the last ‘i’ and I got to the end, but I couldn’t get a publisher for them.”
So far, Schaefer lived about three and a half lives, having careers and an education that some use as the foundation for the entirety of their life. But Al used it as a stepping stone.
Along the way, Schaefer has met many people. While he was a salesman, he was known as Al, but as a lawyer, it was Alan. The difference was much more than two letters. These careers are on opposite sides of the spectrum.
“I’ve joked with people before (saying) I paid for law school by fixing cars,” he said. “That’s how I went to law school. What is kind of humorous is that my car dealer friends teased me that I went to law school, ‘oh geez, you’re going to be a lawyer. That’s kind of sleazy.’ And then I became a lawyer and some of the lawyers were like ‘you used to be a car dealer, that is kind of sleazy.’ “
After all the meanders, Schaefer, 55, found himself, alongside his wife Karla Weyand, purchasing the old Carrier Coach facility on Buffalo Street in Gowanda. No, not as a writer or lawyer, but again as a salesman. A salesman/owner at Alan Schaefer’s used car dealership and hopefully for the long haul.
CHANGE IN SCENERY
The town of Amherst has a population of 122,366, according to the 2010 census. The suburb of Buffalo is clustered with people or, as business owners may see it, customers. Schaefer’s hometown has more than 119,000 more people than the village of Gowanda, whICH has 2,709 according to the same census.
Schaefer noticed the difference, but believes that small communities have much to offer and that his car dealership could do the same for the residents.
“Do I think it was risky to open it here? Maybe a little because I am not from here and Gowanda,” he said. “Like most Western New York small towns, everyone knows everybody and they don’t all know me. But I got to tell you, I feel pretty much at home here pretty fast.”
He noted that his wife, Weyand, was the reason they came to this area, her hometown, as her last name one that many residents know.
After deciding to purchase the property, Schaefer started realizing that to some Gowanda has a negative stigma that surrounds it.
“I have a little bit of an outsider’s view in that, I don’t mean this to be critical, there’s a decent segment in Gowanda that thinks that the village is struggling and that it isn’t what it used to be,” Schaefer said. “There’s no glue factory in town anymore, there’s no tannery in town, large employers, they are not here anymore.
“So the Main Street to them doesn’t look like it did in the ’60s and the ’70s and the ’50s. It’s changed. Some people I think … regret where the village has gone, but I think fresh eyes come in and you see where the village could go.”
In the summer, he and his wife got to work with the fixtures and painting. The building was not secure and there was a lot of repairs needed before it could be a workplace. Their daughter, Lauren, came back from Hawaii to help kick start the business. It became a family business, something that Gowanda strives off.
THE NEW CAR ALTERNATIVE
The village of Gowanda is that typical blue collar area. They work, they sleep and they know if somebody bought a house that is three streets and 14 doors down. It is a small, tight-knit community. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t seen the economic hardships that many rural areas experience. Schaefer believes that is why a used car dealership will be something that can last in the area.
“Whether or not it’s going to work selling cars here? I think it will,” Schaefer answered. “We are in it for the long haul. I’m not looking to sell a few cars and get out. We intend to be here for a while.”
With the purchase of the business, also came large empty buildings on the land. Schaefer saw this as a chance to grow the area’s business. Joe Hendrix, of Z Joe’s Auto Detailing, and Chris Stockwell, of Stockwell Automotive Repair, joined Schaefer at 271 Buffalo Street.
Hendrix was a local detailer before moving to Buffalo Street, but he expanded to a much bigger facility than his garage. His new location is right behind the car wash in the old bus bay. Stockwell was an area mechanic as well who has been in the field for a while and saw the opportunity and jumped on it.
“I feel it’s going good,” Stockwell said on his first business that is behind Schaefer’s. “I am not doubting it one bit.”
Now when people drive by the old Carrier Coach or even before that the old dairy place, they can say at least they are doing something good with it. Bringing a vacant building into a family business, expanding another local business and jump starting another’s first business.
Exactly what Gowanda is looking for.