Life has its funny twists and turns, and for Jim Chiesa, a weekend visiting friends in the foothills evolved into his life’s work. Back in the early ’80s, Chiesa drove up from San Jose to Nevada County to see old friends. He never went home.
“I fell in love with the area,” he said. “When it came time to go home, I asked if I could stay longer — I ended up renting a little granny unit and never looked back.”
Chiesa got a job working for a chimney sweep company called Abercrombie & Co. He liked the work so much that he ended up buying the company from the previous owner. In 1986, the business had grown, so Chiesa opened his first small store in an old house in Cedar Ridge, where he expanded his services and inventory, which included stoves and fireplaces.
“In 1987 I began to carry retractable awnings and sunscreens, and we’d developed a reputation among our customers for going above and beyond,” he said. “From that point on, we just grew and grew and operated our business for 17 years on Nevada City Highway near Jack in the Box.”
These days, Abercrombie & Co. Stoves and Awnings is a well known name among Nevada County homeowners and contractors. As business grew over the years, more of its business was off-site than in the store, which prompted Chiesa to relocate the business to Penn Valley in 2002, where it remains today.
“Now about 80 percent of our business is referrals,” he said. “That really tells us we’re doing a good job. We’re known for taking care of everything except writing the check.”
Although Chiesa is the sole owner, he has a team of four, including his wife, Shelley, who oversees customer service and scheduling. The team takes care of cleaning, maintenance and installation for stoves and fireplaces, including wood-burning, gas, electric and pellet.
In addition, the demand for awnings and retractable sunscreens has continued to grow. Not only does Abercrombie do installations, it maintains its products, since prolonged exposure to ultra-violet rays, water and mold can often require chemical treatment.
The largest awning it has ever installed was one 51 feet by 14 1/2 feet.
“Our company is very personal and family-like,” he said. “What’s most rewarding is customer recognition. We went on an Alaskan cruise in June for our anniversary, and four people recognized me on the dock in San Francisco. I have thousands of chimney sweep customers I’ve known for years. It’s a joy to see someone outside work and have them invite me to sit down at their table.”
The best part, said Chiesa, is that his business has enabled him to build a life in an area he loves.
“Everyone has a rough day at work from time to time,” he said. “But then I look around and remind myself that people save up their money so they can vacation here. Shelley and I get to make a living here.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4203.