Disabled business owners thrive


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Chris Nobriga operates his computer in his Union Street apartment using a special device that he operates with the touch of his finger. Nobriga, 40, runs his own PowerPoint presentation business out of his home. He was paralyzed in a car accident when he was 22.

Staff Reporter

Six years ago, Diane Couch had enough of letting her disability control her life.
“I sat here for five years and did absolutely nothing but watch television,” she said. “And I see my kids growing up and I was like — I was missing a lot. I made up my mind I had to do something.”
So Couch, who is 50, lives in Marathon and has fibromyalgia, decided to start a sewing machine repair business. She has operated the business with her 53-year-old husband, Phil, out of their home at 3857 Irish Hill Road. It’s called Couch’s Creations, and it just started selling and repairing guns two weeks ago.
Couch is among 79 disabled people who have used the Small Business Development Center based at SUNY Binghamton to help set up a business in Cortland County since 1984, said Doug Boyce, the center’s director. Several business owners interviewed say the businesses have helped them overcome their disabilities.
Diane Couch said she’s had fibromyalgia — a widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder for which the cause is still unknown — for about 15 years. She first experienced symptoms after cleaning out her daughter’s car, she said. The cleaning chemicals mixed with the car’s material, setting off her pain, she said.
Symptoms of the disease include sharp pains, fatigue and aching joints and muscles. The pain comes and goes, but when it comes, it’s rough, she said.
“You’re just totally exhausted all the time and you’re constantly in pain,” she said.
Couch said she has to get shots every three months or she wouldn’t be able to walk.
But fortunately her family and business have helped her forget her illness to some degree, she said.
“It keeps you from sitting there thinking about what you’re going through,” she said.
Chris Nobriga, 40, of Cortland, knows what Couch is talking about.
Since Nobriga got into a car accident in California when he was 22, he has been paralyzed from the neck down. He’s bound to a wheelchair, talks slowly as a result of a breathing tube in his trachea and can only really use his right thumb and pointer finger.
As a result of his condition, he’s spent a lot of time sitting around watching television, he said.
That’s not the way he likes to live his life, he said.
“I need to have more of a purpose to feel productive,” he said. “I couldn’t just sit around and vegetate”
So Nobriga, who has always used and loved computers, decided to start his own PowerPoint presentation business out of his home, at 48 Union St. in Cortland. He now owns PowerPoint Plus and makes PowerPoint presentations for companies and nonprofit organizations.
Since Nobriga can only use his thumb and pointer finger, he has a special piece of equipment attached to his computer. It allows him to push a button to move a cursor to a symbol representing a certain operation, he said.
It takes Nobriga about a month to do a PowerPoint presentation but he makes up for it with his prices, he said. He only charges $100 to $400 per presentation, as opposed to competitors who charge $800 to $1,000 per presentation.
Having a business has filled Nobriga’s time, exercised his creativity and allowed him to think big, he said.
He said he would eventually like to move out of his home into a work space, hire employees and become financially independent of Medicaid.
People tell him he can’t do it, he said, but that won’t get in his way.
“The more someone tells me I can’t do something, the more I am motivated to prove them wrong,” he said.
Another disabled business owner is Kitty Jones, 57, of Cortland. Jones, who has cerebral palsy, has owned Spirit & Life, at 31 Main St., for almost 13 years.
She operated the store, which sells religious gifts — such as cards, books and music, at the corner of Main Street for 10 years prior to the move.
Like Nobriga, Jones said she loves proving she can do things as well — if not better — than a person without a disability.
While her mother and siblings also had faith in her, and pushed her to do things, society wasn’t always that way, she said.
After she received a marketing degree from Monroe Community College in Rochester, she was unable to find a job, she said.
“Back then they didn’t want to hire handicapped people,” she said.
But decades later she has two associate’s degrees, one bachelor’s degree and decades of operating a successful business under her belt. She also no longer receives governmental assistance for her disability.
Now she can get the respect she deserves, she said.
“I have to have all or nothing,” she said.



Debate threatens agreement on sales tax revenue

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Town Board members on Wednesday questioned whether Cortlandville should receive a larger portion of the county’s sales tax revenues.
That same debate is taking place in many towns and villages and is threatening the proposed agreement reached between the county and its municipalities.
The parties have agreed in principle to a split of total sales tax revenues that would, after three years, see the county receiving 52 percent of the revenue and the city and other municipalities splitting the remaining 48 percent.
The city then would take 18.25 percent of the total revenue, leaving 29.75 percent to be divided among the towns and villages on the basis of comparative assessed value of real property.
The lone caveat in the otherwise smooth negotiation process has been the desire of the municipalities’ negotiators — primarily city Director of Administration Andy Damiano and Cortlandville Supervisor Dick Tupper — to allocate an additional 1 percent of revenue out to Cortlandville, out of the town-village share.
Previously the towns and villages had split their share based entirely on assessed values, and at Wednesday’s meeting, Homer Councilman Kevin Williams wondered why it couldn’t remain that way.
Williams said he had spoken with a number of Homer residents who were concerned about the proposal, feeling it was unfair that Cortlandville would receive both the added revenue and the benefits of higher assessments.
“They’re going to get more money anyway,” Williams said, suggesting the revenue should continue to be divided based only on assessments.
Tupper has said the added revenue is needed to fund infrastructure costs for the extensive development going on in Cortlandville, but some towns have said the added revenue would only make the rich richer.
Marathon Town Supervisor Chuck Adams on Friday essentially agreed with Williams.
“If they go ahead and make all these improvements, who’s going to get the assessed valuation but the town of Cortlandville — it’s only going to increase their share,” Adams said, noting he hadn’t yet spoken with his Town Board, and the board as a whole would ultimately speak for the town.
“I personally don’t feel that the towns and villages should finance the expansion and the increase in infrastructure in the town of Cortlandville.”
Damiano wasn’t surprised to hear there was concern among small towns, noting at the last negotiating session, town officials in attendance had expressed apprehension.
“The way we left it, the county was going to inform the towns and villages of the proposal on the table, seek feedback, and let us know the results of that,” Damiano said. “To this point we’ve had no communication at all.”
The Common Council and the Legislature are both hoping to vote on the contract this month, the council at its Sept. 19 meeting, and the Legislature at the Sept. 21 session.



North Homer Avenue residents:

Bell Drive causes flooding downhill

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — As the town continues to decide how and when it will solve drainage problems in the Bell Drive area off Route 281, Heather Gorman of North Homer Avenue off Route 11 wants the town to think of an old adage: Everything flows downhill.
“Bell Drive’s claim is that DaVinci (Drive) affects them,” Gorman said last week. “What Bell Drive doesn’t see is that they affect us.”
Gorman, who moved into her house a year and a half ago, said she had to be carried out by the Cortlandville Fire Department within the first six months, during the flood of May 2005.
“When the fire department came and carried us out of the house, the fuse panel had water pouring through it and the river hadn’t even crested yet,” Gorman said, adding that she had lost her hot water heater, furnace, and, of course, fuse box.
Several more hot water heaters have been lost to floodwaters since then, but Gorman said her house isn’t in any flood zone.
“What forced us out of our home was groundwater, not river water,” Gorman said. “We were told that at times you could get water in the basement, and we knew that there were sump pumps in the basement. That’s a whole different story than having your entire property covered in water.”
Up the street and across the road on a higher piece of land than Gorman’s house, Carol Raymond’s house on North Homer Avenue does flood from time to time, Raymond said, but usually only in the spring.
“But across the road there, lately there’s been a lot of standing water,” Raymond said, pointing north to an undeveloped property owned by Suit-Kote Corp.
Although her basement didn’t flood this spring, Raymond said standing water in the property across the road has remained for several days after each rain, and mosquitoes have been a major problem.
Next door to Raymond, Bettie Zachary said she only gets deep water in her front yard but the property across the street, the owner of which could not be reached, floods almost as badly as Gorman’s.
Although there are no man-made drainage systems in the Suit-Kote property, company spokesman Brian Renna said there are natural ponds that hold back much of the water that accumulates on the property.
“Right now, it’s land that is owned by Suit-Kote, and we haven’t made a decision about which direction we’re going to go with it,” Renna said Friday, adding that a sub-division application had been approved by the appropriate agencies several years ago.
William Howe, of Howe’s Nuisance Wildlife Removal, said he’s removed three beavers from the Suit-Kote property for the country club, which has had some flooding on its golf course from the Suit-Kote property.
“If I hadn’t taken out that dam out up there, this whole area would be flooded,” Howe said as he pointed to a pond that had formerly been dammed on its downhill side immediately behind Natoli’s Route 11 Market.




After delays, Kinney Drugs opens new location

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — After a few months of delays, Kinney Drugs has opened a new location within the Cortlandville Plaza.
The store moved from a strip mall in the plaza at Route 281 and McLean Road to a stand-alone store in the northwest corner of the same shopping center.
The new store was originally supposed to open in May, but construction had to stop when Kinney Drugs learned its plan conflicted with the state Department of Transportation’s plans to expand Route 281.
The company drew up a new plan that moved construction back 30 feet to accommodate increased traffic lanes, sidewalks and snow storage along Route 281.
Also, the new plan called for green space in front of the building instead of behind the building.
The former store — located beside Big Lots and Country Max — closed Aug. 27 and the new store opened Aug. 28. A grand opening will take place on Sept. 16, said Stephanie LaDue, a spokeswoman for Kinney Drugs.
LaDue said Kinney Drugs is moving many of its 85 locations into freestanding buildings.
Freestanding locations are more convenient for shoppers, since cars can access them easier, she said. Also, building a new store gives Kinney Drugs the opportunity to update the store’s technology and make it more modern, she said.
Additionally, the stores can be built bigger than they were in the strip malls, she said.
LaDue said the new Cortlandville store is rare in that it is about the same size as the old store. The store is 11,550 square feet.
The new store has new services, such as a drive-through pharmacy and a one-hour digital photo center. The store will also sell frozen foods, fresh produce and clothing.
As a result of the move, the store has hired six new store clerks, LaDue said. That brings the number of store employees to 30, she said.
LaDue said Kinney Drugs is different than some of its competitors, such as Rite Aid and CVS, in that it is a local chain.
It was founded in upstate New York — in Gouverneur — in 1903. It gradually grew from one location to 85, with most of the stores in upstate New York.
“We’re really focused on upstate, New York exclusively,” she said.