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Jamaica window maker brings light to city

Deep in the enclave of industrial Jamaica lies the 80,000-square-foot factory for J. Sussman Inc., one of the most well-known makers of custom aluminum windows.

"People see the windows and that's what they remember of the building," said Steve Sussman, the grandson of company founder Isadore Sussman. "The windows make the building."

The company that built the frames for the windows at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan and the Arlington National Cemetery Visitors Center has been in Jamaica since 1965, and has been at its current building on 180th Street.

Sussman, who grew up in Flushing, remembers taking a day off from Brooklyn Tech High School in 1965 to help his father Jack move the business to its first Jamaica location.

Now with a background in engineering and law, Steve Sussman helps his brother David run the company.

"This is the only job I have ever had," said Sussman, who has worked full time for the family-owned company since 1976. "I did deliver pizza in college," he admitted.

A total of 70 people work in the company's Jamaica headquarters, including 10 engineers, a small office staff, and several dozen factory workers.

"We have employees who have worked here for 40 years," said Sussman, meaning the company, which has been at its current location since 1980.

Many of the factory workers were either from Jamaica or have moved to the community, and there are several father-son teams welding masterful frames in the factory, including Julio Cortez and his son Cesar.

At any one time there are about 1 million pounds of aluminum in various forms and stages stored in the factory, he said. While the company often works directly with the building or home on designing the window frames, glass and window makers also can be direct customers of the company.

Sussman speaks with pride about how his grandfather, a Polish immigrant who initially spoke little English but began making steel window frames for churches in 1906.

"He was a great mechanic," Sussman said of his grandfather. "We have excellent craftsmanship, but I don't know if it will ever be like it was in the old days."

Sussman said in the 1940s his father Jack helped the company make the transition from steel to aluminum frames.

"Very few people do what we do," said Sussman. "If we went out of business, there would be a void in the industry.

Sunbilt Creative Sunrooms, which makes the frames for clear glass rooms in homes, hotels, restaurants, and government buildings, is a subsidiary of J. Sussman.

While most of the company's work in the metropolitan area is based in Manhattan, the economic resurgence in Jamaica has given them some jobs in the community.

J. Sussman constructed window frames for the Allen AME Cathedral on Merrick Boulevard and designed the new skylight inside the Jamaica Market on Jamaica Avenue.

"Jamaica is a great place to do business," he said. "It has undergone a complete turnaround."

He described Jamaica of the early 1970s when the elevated train blocked sunlight from reaching Jamaica Avenue and drugs and crime ruled the neighborhoods streets. Taking the elevated train line down was the first step toward creating a safer neighborhood that the government and private sector would invest in, he said.

"When you said you worked in Jamaica, people assumed you worked in a really bad area," he said. "Now I go for a jog around here every day."

For more information call 297-3090.

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