Awnings that ‘gimme shelter’

It was Thanksgiving weekend 1990 when Gregory Sahagian Sr. decided to go into the awning business.

It was Thanksgiving weekend 1990 when Gregory Sahagian Sr. decided to go into the awning business.

“I started at the worst time ever,” he says of those depressed times. And perhaps in the worst way ever, with a used pickup truck and a handful of tools. His first client was a Rye woman who wanted seven or eight awnings installed around her coastal property. Coming from a wholesale environment, Sahagian says he was unsure of what to charge her, then finally summoned the courage to name his price — $8,500. 

The woman disappeared into the house, and Sahagian was sure she was going to call the cops on him. Instead she returned with several checkbooks. Finding just the right one, she told Sahagian that she didn’t have time to write two checks — one for a down payment and one for the completed work and instead gave him one for the full amount.

And that was Sahagian’s introduction to what has been a successful, 30-plus-year career, one that has seen Hartsdale-based Gregory Sahagian & Son Inc. install awnings and pergolas on residential and commercial properties alike in Westchester and Fairfield counties and New York City, including Barnes & Noble’s concept store in Eastchester, The J House in Greenwich, Million Air’s hub at Westchester County Airport in White Plains and even The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roof Garden in Manhattan.

Many of Sahagian’s clients are hospitals and country clubs. (His wife, Lori, general manager of the Bronxville Field Club near their Mount Vernon home, is, he proudly notes, the only female country club manager in Westchester County.) But whether you’re a famed restaurateur or a modest homeowner, there are a variety of coverings that Sahagian can offer to shade and protect your entrances, windows and outdoor living spaces. These include fixed or motorized retractable awnings; pergolas with awnings and the trending adjustable louvered blades; tension structures, known as shade sails; seasonal vestibule enclosures; screened-in porches; window solar shades; and outdoor privacy screens.

The awnings themselves come in a variety of styles and materials, the latter including aluminum; vinyl, the industry standard; and upscale, textured, aesthetic acrylic, which Sahagian says has a matte finish and offers good UV protection.

Listening to him talk the day after Hurricane Ida devastated the region, drowning cars along Central Avenue and sending restaurant alarms wailing, you realize that Sahagian has probably explained these differences countless times, particularly to homeowners during the pandemic. He was closed during its height here, March and April 2020, and business dropped precipitously. But he ended the year up 4%, thanks in part to homeowners feathering — or rather shading — their nests.

While Sahagian took a roundabout route to the awnings business, the through line from his early days has been a love of sales and service. It began with his father, who sold Persian rugs in Manhattan — a not uncommon business for those who, like the Sahagians, are of Armenian descent. Sahagian grew up in Washington Heights, where he attended P.S. 187, then Palisades Park Junior/Senior High Schools when the family moved to the New Jersey township. Sahagian went on to an associate’s degree from Farleigh Dickinson University with eye to a career in hospitality. His first restaurant gig was at the Vince Lombardi Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike in Ridgefield. In college, he worked his way up at the Hilton Meadowlands from food and beverage to assistant comptroller.

But, he says, “I realized the hotel business would be low paying unless I worked my way to the top over 15 years.”

Training people for jobs that always alluded him, Sahagian quit. (“I was a bit of a hot head then,” he says.) But a segue to awnings was in store. For three years, he had “a dream job” with Pupa Milano beauty products in Spring Valley — traveling to Europe for the Italian brand, flying first-class on the now-defunct TWA. Pirelli, the car tire manufacturer, owned the building that housed Pupa. That led Sahagian to work with Pirelli and then RIRI Inc., an Italian wholesale awnings company.

“I realized if I could do this for them, I could do this for myself.”

Today, Sahagian and his staff of five, including older son Gregory Jr., are busy year-round, with winter focused on preparing his country club, parks and municipal clients for the upcoming season. One of their biggest pandemic challenges — getting the materials they need as aluminum is expensive and fabrics take four to six months for delivery.

Otherwise, it’s all good. “This isn’t rocket science,” Sahagian says.

Perhaps not. But it is something that enhances the quality of outdoor living.

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