As Gaye walked down the aisle at her wedding in July 2011, all she could see was her groom. Sam beamed with love and pride as she approached, stunning in a bejeweled ivory gown. Theirs would be a fairytale wedding, from the ceremony, with its deeply personal vows, to the memorable reception that followed.
Yet, the tale to be told about that day is not one of a fair young maiden and her handsome suitor about to embark on an unknown future. Indeed, Sam and Gaye Levine’s story began two commingled lifetimes ago. It has included four children, a large and loving family, many friends, countless acquaintances and a business that has been a fixture in Bergen County for decades, G. Fried Carpet and Design in Paramus, NJ.
In a meaningful gesture, their seven grandchildren completed the wedding party, a touching tribute to the life the couple has shared. The day of the wedding, Gaye looked not ahead, but “back on a life that was beautiful.” She and her husband have become one entity, she said. “Sam and Gaye, that’s who we are.”
This wedding—their first had been far more modest—was an opportunity to acknowledge, in a particularly joyous manner, their love for each other and the happiness and good fortune that have come their way. The inspiration for the second set of nuptials resulted from the experience of losing a dear friend. The funeral gave pause for thought, especially the words spoken in tribute to the deceased.
The desire to celebrate in a big way soon followed. “We wanted to plan a happy occasion—a wedding, not a funeral,” explained Gaye, who looks back on her life with awe and gratitude. “I always look up and say ‘thank you’.”
The couple’s story began in Brooklyn, New York, where they met at Wingate High School. After marrying, they stayed in the city, and Sam launched his career in the carpet industry.
“Sam was always a carpet man,” said Gaye. “And he was never afraid of hard work.” At one point during the early days of his career, Sam regularly worked for 30 straight days. “Then, we’d take a day off and spend it at Rockaway Beach.” Their motto has always been “Work hard and play hard.”
And work hard they have. By the 1970s, the couple had four young children, Amy, Karen, Andrew and Lainie, and all the related responsibilities and challenges. In 1978, they decided to set up shop in Paramus, and the couple’s passionate approach to both life and business was well placed and well rewarded, as their landmark store has outlasted many of its kind, even surviving the worst economic downturn in recent history.
Today, the business includes a 7,000 square-foot showroom with approximately 14,000 samples, a large workroom and 14 employees, all of whom have been with the company for between ten to 33 years. In a typical week, the company delivers 1,500 to 1,800 square yards of carpet to residential and commercial customers, according to Sam.
Customers Come First
Customer satisfaction is of utmost importance, and Sam estimates that 85 percent of the store’s customers come through referrals. Each order is opened all the way and inspected before it is delivered. Defective carpets are returned to the manufacturer. Discounts for poor quality are not acceptable, he said. “You’re not going to remember the money we took off, just that you’re not satisfied with the job,” he said.
Gaye, who started working at the business in 1989 at Sam’s suggestion, now assists customers as they work through the maze of carpet selection. She spends whatever time it takes to help a customer make the right choice. The store even offers a comfortable seating area for shoppers to sit and relax. Time can pass quickly as she happily takes customers through a process that will ultimately reveal their preferences and match them to the correct products. It’s a labor of love for Gaye, and the couple’s professional and personal lives have blended over the years. “We built this store with our heart and soul,” Gaye said.
“Our business model is to treat every customer and every employee like family,” Sam emphasized. He attributes their success to personalized service, white glove installation, custom products, the nature of a family-run business and non-commissioned salespeople who work together as an effective team.
In addition to Gaye, Sam and their son, Andrew, who has worked for the store for 23 years, the Levines have acquired a virtual extended family in their employees. “We don’t go out of the circle,” said Sam. New staff members have been recruited from the families of employees. It is a point of pride for Gaye and Sam that they have been able to stick to their pledge not letting go of anyone during recent hard times.
Eschewing low-end merchandise, G. Fried Carpet proudly offers a full range of quality carpets. Approximately 25 percent of the business is custom, and the store is well known for unique carpets with trim, one-of-a kind designs, and an unlimited choice of shapes and configurations. An important tool is a large plotter that prints unique patterns, which are brought to fruition by in-house staff. Numerous racks of various types of trim on the premises are augmented by custom orders as needed.
Dreams Come True
It’s an “if-you-can-dream-it, we-can-do-it” mentality at G. Fried Carpet, and that way of thinking has given rise to a trademark product—the showcase staircase. It’s usually the staircase that people see first when they come to your house, and that’s an opportunity to make the ultimate first impression, noted Gaye. “I tell customers, if you have to choose, concentrate on the staircase and the powder room. That’s what they are going to remember,” she said. Continuing to develop new and exciting products for stair displays is a major focus of future plans, added Sam.
When Ellen and Michael Jacobs purchased their new home, a 6,000 square-foot condo in Demarest, NJ, it was an “ease of life change,” said Ellen, not a matter of downsizing. There was nothing small or low-key about a three-story space with features such as two circular staircases, a master suite, a family room, four bedrooms and numerous (four full and two half) bathrooms. With their children out of the house, there was no one to please but themselves and, perhaps, their small dog, a Min Pin called Madison, but they were eager to make their new home something special.
Their previous home—a house in nearby Tenafly where they had lived for 30 years—had been nicely decorated by professionals from New York City. This time, however, the Jacobs wanted something different and closer to home in New Jersey. By chance, and attracted by the store’s distinctive front window, the Jacobs went into G. Fried Carpet and found the place that would make their decorating dreams come true.
“It was like walking into a candy store,” said Ellen. “You didn’t know which way to look.” Any concerns about selecting floor coverings that would complement their art collection and eclectic furnishings quickly went away as the store’s team took them under its collective wing. “The entire staff was wonderful,” said Ellen. What could have been a dreadful experience under other circumstances became “fun,” and G. Fried Carpet exceeded their expectations. “Because of their creativity, they gave us even more [than we had hoped for.]”
The Jacobs’ dog, Madison, also benefited from the store’s personalized service with a custom-built, carpeted staircase so the little pooch could reach and look out of the window. “There’s nothing they can’t put together,” said Ellen.
This trademark personal touch and attention to detail also extends into Gaye and Sam’s own life away from the business. For instance, this Valentine’s Day, the couple’s plans include romance and fine dining, and without question, Gaye will think back to the cherished words that Sam spoke to her last July when they renewed their vows in front of 110 witnesses.
“…You will be the one that I will always love with all my heart. Gaye, you are my soul mate… Whatever our destiny may be, I will be walking beside you with your hand in mine knowing we will be together for all time. I will never lose sight of you; I promise to cherish you forever both in this life and whatever comes next.”
Kathleen Mathieu enjoys writing about a variety of topics. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.