One could say Lenore Schwartz was a pioneer as a woman business owner.
While New York City currently promotes the need for more Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE), certification wasn’t as easy back in the early 1990s.
“When we went to Livingston Street in Brooklyn to get interviewed, it was just an incredible process. Every single agency came down for an interview. They don’t do that anymore,” said the president of Total Electrical Distributors Inc.
“We were definitely more determined to get certified. We had the business already, so why give up? It took us a few years, but we got it,” said Schwartz.
The third-generation business dates almost 100 years to Brooklyn as Schwartz’s grandfather, Benjamin Schwartz, started Flatbush Lighting Fixture Company in 1922 before moving a few years later to the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue P. Her father, Harold Schwartz, joined the business after he got out of the U.S. Navy and Lenore entered in 1982.
Schwartz and her sister Wendie incorporated Total Electrical Distributors in 1989 to become a women-owned business and made the big move the following year when they sold the Brooklyn property and purchased the current 30,000-square foot warehouse on South Avenue in Mariners Harbor. In the early 2000s, Schwartz took over sole ownership when she bought out her sister once she moved away.
“I really don’t remember who told us about the certification, but we knew it was the right decision. Some of the agencies said if we could get certified, then maybe we could get discretional business. So, it became very important for us to get certified as a women-owned business,” recalled the former Lou Miller Business Leadership Award winner.
That decision paid off as Total Electrical Distributors Inc. – which is certified as a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) — provides electrical supplies to the tri-state area and beyond, listing the School Construction Authority, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey among its many clients. The company has furnished equipment recently during the construction of the Goethals, Bayonne, Kosciuszko, and Gov. Mario Cuomo bridges as well as the South Ferry Terminal.
With so many components involved with those massive projects, Schwartz said she is proud knowing she played a role in those jobs and with some ongoing major construction in the borough.
Schwartz cites her husband and industrial designer Noah Schechtel for his help with the business as well as the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, as she celebrates her 25th anniversary with the organization.
“My dad and I were presidents of the Kings Highway Board of Trade, which is kind of like a Chamber. We knew the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce was a positive organization to belong to. We knew if we needed help, they could give that to us. It was a no-brainer,” she said.
Through the years, Schwartz has counted on Chamber workshops, seminars, and events to help promote and grow her business.
“It definitely helped me network and build more contacts,” she said. “If people say to me they’re not a member of the Chamber, I’ll ask, ‘Why not?’ You can get a lot of benefits,” she said.