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A Small-Business Owner Who Survived the World Trade Center Attacks Looks Back After 10 Years

Greg Carafello looks back at how Sept. 11, 2001, changed him as a business owner.
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Greg Carafello's journey as a business owner has been a tumultuous one. The company he founded, AbraCadabra Digital Printing, was headquartered on the 18th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower in New York City. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was wrapping up a morning meeting with his business manager when the first plane slammed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Seventeen minutes later, as Carafello and his manager stood panicked on the street, a second plane crashed into the South Tower.

The company Carafello had grown to include four other locations in New Jersey and about 30 employees was put to the test. The printing industry contracted dramatically in the ensuing recession, he says. "After 9/11, the business world was dead," says Carafello, who is 51.

Revenues at AbraCadabra plummeted from about $3 million a year before the attacks to only $600,000 in 2003. Carafello sold the company that summer for $450,000. 

Carafello's entrepreneurial spirit pushed on. That same year, he became a master franchisee of Cartridge World, an ink and toner printer-cartridge retailer, and spent the next several years developing more than 30 stores in New Jersey. But he wasn't ready to return to Manhattan. He couldn't get past the trauma of the attacks and his disappointment of having to let go of the business he founded. 

Finally in 2008, Carafello decided he was ready to return to the Big Apple. He opened four Cartridge World stores there and has plans for two more before the end of the year.

We spoke with Carafello about how attacks have changed his perspective as a business owner.

Did you think you'd ever own a business again?
The worst days of my career were letting people go who made the business what it was by working all night and weekends. They bought houses on my idea and raised families.

But the answer to the question is yes. I know I can open, turn around and drive businesses to success. I am a student of business. I love it.

Was returning to New York City a difficult decision for you?
I wasn't sure if I could ever own a business there again. When I go downtown to the Trade Center area, I have so many memories that it's hard not to go back in time -- both good and bad. I still get shaky when up 50 floors on, say, a sales call with a franchisee. It took a while before I had any comfort when higher up in buildings.

But the market in New York City is so large that there are millions of printer cartridges sold there every year. The math works out well for the industry. I can't ignore that.

Looking back over the last decade, how has 9/11 changed your perspective on business and life?
The attacks are with me for life, but they also make me stronger. I admire people who persevere and can make life better after getting knocked down. 'It is only over when you say it's over,' as they say. I am less intense on certain issues now and take more time with customers and other people in my life than I did before.

I see great opportunities in business today. A recession is the best time to open businesses. Depending on your business, you can take advantage of cheaper rents, more flexibility with people's income demands, and increased willingness of vendors and advertisers to work with you. The 'American Dream' still exists for people who want to grow a business and be responsible for making it successful.

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