By: Janel Spiegel and Joe Scrizzi
Interview with Joseph Mascari (Joe Mascari’s Carpets & Rugs International)
“Small businesses are the heart of the country.” Joseph Mascari.
On Wednesday, April 27, 2022, Joe Scrizzi and myself went into Joseph Mascari’s Carpets and Rugs International. I have been doing interviews for years. I’m never sure what to expect and I find that fascinating. I love talking to people. I love to find out the process of life. I love to find out what people love and why they love to do what they do in life.
Joseph Mascari’s Carpets and Rugs International is located at 1221 Sumner Avenue, Allentown, PA. It was interesting to find out that both Joe Scrizzi and myself grew up pretty close to where Mr. Mascari’s business is. When you walk into Mr. Mascari’s business, you realize that you’ve entered a business that has been around since 1970. Mr. Mascari has been through a lot and his business survived the pandemic.
Mr. Mascari’s Carpets and Rugs International provides customers with area rugs, broadloom carpet, tile, hardwood, and laminate. He has remained in business and managed to stick around while the giant corporations try to sell their products, Mr. Mascari continues to up his game and sell the best quality. He is a no-nonsense type of gentleman, he’s quick-witted with a great sense of humor. He made me and Joe Scrizzi laugh.
I think all of us that have grown up in the Lehigh Valley have been to Joseph Mascari’s Carpets and Rugs International at some point in life, or we have driven by it and noticed the cool artwork outside on the building. Something that stuck with me and Joe Scrizzi was when Mr. Mascari said, “Small businesses are the heart of the country.”
It’s the mom-and-pop shops, the original businesses, the places where families work non-stop to have a better life. I don’t believe in parents owing us anything but a good work ethic passed down is certainly something you can take with you all throughout your life.
He said, he had and has something to get him out of bed in the morning, he has customers that have been with him for years, and now their children shop at his business. I don’t think people always think about the incredible process and the amount of work it takes to get a business going, and have it continued to flourish.
Joe Scrizzi and myself sat down to talk with Mr. Mascari about business, his family, his dogs, the Lehigh Valley, his hometown, and more.
Spiegel- I’m curious about the dogs. The beautifully framed photos of the dogs. Are they your dogs?
Mascari- Yes, they are. Those are the only two dogs that I brought into the store. All the dogs I’ve had have been rescues.
(Mr. Mascari was gracious enough to give us a full tour of his business. It’s a beautiful building with a great set up. He showed off the “wood room” which is surrounded by 400 rugs.” He also showed us some of the new products. Go visit his store so you can check everything out.)
Spiegel- How did all of this start? How did this idea manifest for you and why did you decide to go into this business?
Mascari- We’ve been in business for fifty-two years, and how it all started… Well, I’ll go way back, my mother and my father were divorced when I was very young. My brother was just born, and these were two people who were wonderful people individually, together they were poison. They just were not meant to be. My mom was stuck with us, and we were angels. I just want everyone to know that. We were poster children for heaven, that’s why I spent eight years in the military academy, and my brother spent nine years in the military academy. My mother wanted positive male role models for us. I got to meet my father when I was thirteen. My father was in California and then he moved to Atlanta, and he opened up his own carpet mill in Dalton, Georgia. I had never met my father until I was thirteen so, I went down to Georgia and I met my dad. My dad was a workaholic, that’s all he knew was work, and he had ten children so he had some other hobby but work was his main hobby. I was there for about an hour and I heard the employees asking for raises, they were there for so long and I thought, I’m here for an hour and a half so maybe I should ask for a raise. So, he said, I’m going to give you something better than a raise, I’m going to give you a promotion. I became Vice President of the men’s room. Porcelain and mirrors were my specialty, so, basically, I cleaned toilets, six of them over the course of the summer. Picture this scenario, North Georgia, July and August… no air conditioning and guys that have no sense of aim.
Spiegel- Oh lord, hot, hot, hot.
Mascari- I got my taste of the carpet industry so, fast-forward this. I was born and raised in Pittsburg; I went to the military academy in Pittsburg from age 6 to 14. That was sort of a trend back in those days. Pittsburgh had two military academies. There’s an old Charlton Heston movie, The Private War of Major Benson, I think it was one his first movies. It talks about this rough and tumble Major who is always getting in trouble. I went to High School in Delaware. My mother was an education junkie. She had me taking all these tests. So, when my father would come to visit me, my father owned his mill, and he would travel all over the country promoting the mill. He would take me to dinner and before we went to dinner, he would call some of his bigger accounts in Philadelphia, North Jersey, and even South Jersey. I got a little taste of it. My mom as I told you was an education junkie, she finds out that their opening this new Catholic school, and it had to be Catholic because they know about discipline, and you need discipline.
Spiegel- Yes, same.
Mascari- She’s saying to me you’re going to Allentown College of Saint Francis de Sales. It was a brand-new college; I was one of the first colleges. I get up there and I met my wife. She didn’t come to the school because it was all guys but I met her in the area, we got married. We were starting to have children, and in 1970 I said I’m never going to get into the carpet business. My dad used to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and he was at his desk at six. I was never going into the carpet business.
Spiegel- Was there something else you wanted to do?
Mascari- I wanted to inherit billions of dollars.[Laughing]
Mascari- I was accepted into law school but instead I got married. I got married, I had one child and then another. My wife was pregnant with our second child and my dad calls me one Sunday night and he said my rep in Philadelphia just died from a massive heart attack. He was fifty-five years old; do you want the job? Immediately I said no because of the vow I took. I was never going into the carpet business. My wife looks at me and says, you know what, you will make money. My territory was Philadelphia, and eventually I became an agent. While we’re doing all this, we buy this house and we go in, and they have red floors.
Scrizzi- Painted red?
Mascari- Yes, painted red. The reason why, the guy lived there by himself, his parents built the house. He was living there by himself and he was afraid of witches. I said to my wife, we might have trouble with the mortgage but we don’t have to worry about witches. It’s a witch-free house. So, I called my dad and I said to him, I look we have these two rooms and this is the size of the rooms. I said, do you have any remnants, I just need two. A week goes by and a truck pulls up in front of the house, and they said we have ten rolls of carpet coming in. I said to my dad, you sent me ten rolls. He goes, yeah, I did. You’ll sell the other eight to pay for your two. My dad treated everybody the same, you want something, you work for it. That was my start. I ran an ad in The Morning Call, and I said I have these eight pieces. A lady called an asked to look at the pieces of carpets and as soon as she came into the house, she said, I want these two.
Scrizzi-To me a remnant is a piece of carpet. What’s a remnant to you?
Mascari- A remnant is under twenty feet by twelve feet. Anything under twenty feet is considered to be leftover. So, we sell the eight others, and my wife said maybe your dad would sell us some more. My wife said maybe we can make some extra money on the side. We opened the mortar and brick store and our business started to flourish. We had five stores within six years. I used to work in the stores for fun.
Scrizzi- Were you the only rug seller in the area?
Mascari- No, no. there was a lot of rug stores but the term rug means something different than carpet. The key in this business is to keep the overhead low, and we did. We had a store on Tilghman Street. We had good people; we had a lot of part-timers. It was a nice atmosphere. Unfortunately, in 1986, my first wife was killed. I had two teenagers at the time. We were married almost nineteen years. So, now I’m a husband and father of the sixties, I knew nothing about the house. I’d come home and magically there was food on the table. I still remember going down to the basement and reading the lid of the washing machine because I had no idea how it worked. My second wife and I are married thirty-four years.
Scrizzi- Do you have a favorite rug, a favorite design?
Mascari- I do, I have a favorite rug. It’s the one that went out the door.[Laughing]
Spiegel- So all the rugs are your favorites.
What advice or words of wisdom would you offer to fellow business owners? Or, is there a piece of advice that stuck with you?
Mascari- You have to be the business. I don’t advertise anyone else but Joe Mascari.
Spiegel- That’s top-tier marketing. That’s excellent advice.
Mascari- Correct. Number two, you cannot be an absentee business owner. I had five stores; I would be in all five stores. I’m always available. It’s a life, and you better enjoy it. I love coming to work. I never thought I would but that’s why I say, never say never. Some times it’s difficult but it’s a great place to go. This just doesn’t fall out of the sky. You build up your credit lines.
Spiegel- I thank you so much Mr. Mascari for taking the time to talk with us today for The Valley Ledger. Thank you.
Scrizzi- Thank you Joe.
Mascari- Thank you so much.