Greg Carafello, now a master franchisee of
New York City and New Jersey stores, just barely made it out of the south tower before it too was hit by a plane.
Carafello's printing business, Abracadabra Digital Color, made its headquarters on the 18th floor. The company also had four satellite locations in New Jersey, but many of its clients were in the towers.
Carafello escaped with one other employee. No others were in the office yet, he says thankfully.
"At first we thought it was a gas explosion, but then we heard it was a plane. My back was to the building when the second one was hit. The noise level was unbearable. At that point you start sprinting. You know you're under attack. This is not a mistake. So we ran down to South Street Seaport," he recalls.
He and the employee ended up walking to midtown to the Waldorf-Astoria, where they got a room to rest and take showers. "We didn't even know the towers had fallen until we turned on the TV," he says.
Carafello was so shocked by the experience -- including the loss of his best friend in the attacks -- that he didn't think much about his office for several days. "It was a matter of just getting away," he says. "You think as an owner you think of the business the next day. It was a week of doing absolutely nothing on the couch. I had competent people running the offices in New Jersey."
But eventually Carafello did have to think about his business -- or rather the lack of business.
"We did a lot of trade show graphics. There was nobody traveling. We went right into a recession. People had no funds," he says.
The Port Authority, one of Carafello's biggest clients, kept giving him business, and Carafello was able to keep his staff of 30 employed for the next two years. But by 2003, the business started to ramp down, and he ended up selling in 2004.
In the meantime, Carafello was already plotting his next venture -- which didn't include New York City, to begin with. "I wasn't ready to go back yet," he says.
He became a franchisee of Cartridge World stores, buying the master rights for its New Jersey territory. Between 2003 and 2005 he opened some 30 stores in New Jersey for the 1,700-store, international specialty retailer of printer and toner cartridges.
But Manhattan eventually lured him back. In 2007, he bought the rights to an additional 30 stores in New York City. He's been slowly opening stores there. Between all of his territories, 46 stores are open under Carafello's franchise territory, and New York City still has virgin opportunities for Cartridge World, he says. He wants to put five stores in lower Manhattan alone.
But the tenth anniversary of 9/11 drums up painful emotions.
"It's been a painful 10 years. Thankfully I got out alive, but financially I got hit. But you get back up and go back to work and be the best at what you do," he says. "The new business is doing well. It's starting to really take off. Now we've got a mature system that's really starting to grow."