Nowak Supply migrating to Riverfront Development

TJ Nowak Supply co-owner Doug Kline stands in front of the newest building of the company. Across the driveway is another building, the old 2-story white brick structure across the driveway is rumored to be the site of an active bordello before being purchased by T.J. Nowak. (By Barb Sieminski for News-Sentinel.com)
These two buildings are owned by Nowak Supply, with the red one being used for Propane Refills, and the very old white brick house was rumored to be a bordello in its heyday before being purchased by TJ Nowak for his business. (By Barb Sieminski for News-Sentinel.com)
TJ Nowak Supply co-owner Doug Kline goes over some sales figures with Balloonworks Sales person Cherie Gillespie. The shop does a robust business with its popular balloons and air swimmers, for weddings, receptions, funerals, graduations, parties and so on. (By Barb Sieminski for News-Sentinel.com)
More views of the Superior Street building of TJ Nowak Supply. (By Barb Sieminski for News-Sentinel.com)

There’s a bit of colorful history in downtown Fort Wayne’s TJ Nowak Supply Co. Inc., according to Doug Kline, one of the four co-owners of the longtime family company.

The nearly 60-year-old business went from, um, serving johns in the 1950s to hauling Porta-Jons in the 1990s.

“The old brick structure which was the original building of our company was, as legend goes, in fact a bordello,” said Doug Kline, a co-owner of the nearly 70-year-old family-owned business on E. Superior.

“When we moved into it, it is said that reclining nudes still hung in the back rooms upstairs. I have been around for a long time, but not quite long enough to remember that.”

At its present location, four buildings comprise the campus, with the newest building beginning in 2001 and completed in 2002. The demolition of the existing building began just days before 9/11, said Kline. The other three buildings consist of a very old house which had three or four additions, the Jon building and the machine shop.

The company started as a welding machine repair business by two men, Herbert “Hoot” Williams and Ted Marvel, and was named Marvel Williams.

“Somewhere in the mid-1950s a young graduate from Ohio State University, newly working for the Lincoln Electric Company opened Marvel Williams as a Lincoln Electric welding machine distributor,” said Kline, a native of Philadelphia.

“That salesman’s name was Ted Nowak. Shortly after that Ted Marvel retired and was bought out by Ted Nowak.”

In 1986 Ted Nowak purchased the remaining stock from “Hoot” and the company rose from the ashes as the new TJ Nowak Supply Co. Inc., continuing to diversify as the years went by.

Since its inception, said Kline, Nowak Supply has added industrial gasses, consumable welding products; safety equipment (glasses, gloves and hard hats); sales and service of fire and security equipment (fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and suppression systems); Balloon Works which sells retail and wholesale latex and mylar balloons, air swimmers and helium gas; gear and equipment for municipal fire departments; first aid supplies and the rental and service of portable toilets.

Fast-forward to 1994 when the ownership group became Greg and Diane Nowak and Barb and Doug Kline.

“Greg is Ted’s son and Barb is Ted’s daughter,” said Kline, who came to Fort Wayne in 1993 to join the company.

“The four of us remained as the company owners until April of this year when Barb and I purchased the stock from Greg and Diane. As planned in the acquisition, we teamed up with Jason Summers (the grandson of ‘Hoot’ who has worked in the company for more than 15 years) and Scott Sherman (a business associate who impressed both Jason and me) working together as the next generation of this family-owned business continues. Barb keeps a close eye on Scott, Jason and me as the leadership team along with several key management personnel.

“I started my work with Nowak Supply in the fire division, and the design, sales and service of fire equipment has been what I have been involved in for more than forty years. I was fire division manager and later vice-president until the acquisition.”

Of more recent times, Kline and his co-workers are deep into plans to move their business to the local waterfront.

“Our interest began when we started seeing artist conception drawings of the riverfront project,” said Kline, who is on the boards of Cancer Services and Visiting Nurse and Hospice Home, and has long been a part of Mustard Seed.

“The city has really been trying to encourage development of downtown. They are beginning to work on the park project which is the property just to the east of us. We are looking for property but have not finalized any location. Part of our concern is that we have been in the same location for more than 60 years, and we are in the process of designing a building that can incorporate all four buildings into one structure.”

There are several new areas in which plans are made to expand that are going to be a part of the continued diversification of Nowak Supply.

“We have plans to expand the services we offer to our fire customers and an expansion of the products we offer to all of our commercial and industrial customers through strategic partnerships we have recently formed,” said Kline, who is also one of the original partners in the creation of Club Soda, now in its 18th year.

“Expansion of our safety group to include clothing and accessories to other first responder groups is also underway. We will also be offering services to our welding customers that have not been available before.

“These areas were recognized as a natural progression for the continued growth of our company. We support the riverfront development project as a great opportunity for the city’s continued growth as well.”

Construction for Phase One of the riverfront project began a few days ago with the elimination of one of the lanes on Superior Street just to the east of Nowak Supply, to allow construction traffic to move safely during that first phase. The City and Hagerman construction have been working closely with the company to try to minimize the interruptions to the customers.

“Our company currently incorporates four buildings into our business operations,” said Kline, “and as riverfront development moves forward it will certainly be a change for us to relocate after 60 years and incorporate the different operations into one facility. First question is, where do we move so we can continue to support our customers with the same level of service we have provided from these facilities?

“Once that is determined, we continue to look at how we will build, move and stay in business throughout the transition. It will not be easy to pick up and move our manufacturing, warehousing and service facilities. To make that happen we will need a lot of support from the City.

“For us, everyone at Nowak is committed during the transition, to provide the services and products the community has learned to expect for 60 years and we stand ready to do whatever is necessary to exceed those expectations in the future.”

MORE INFORMATION

TJ Nowak Supply Company has several different divisions: Welding, which includes equipment, consumable products, tools and industrial gasses; Safety, which includes fire gear, uniforms, accessory items, personal protective equipment, emergency lights and safety-related equipment; Fire, which includes fire extinguishers, fire suppression systems, fire alarms systems, security systems, CCTV, access control and system monitoring; Jons, which includes the rental and servicing of portable toilets and sinks; and Balloonworks, which provides latex and mylar balloons, helium and services to help you do it yourself or have us decorate with balloons for your event.

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