This time of year when I drive down Jackson Street, I always enjoy the yellow magnolia tree with the Doty Mansion as a backdrop.
After 15 years of working for other people in the home-improvement business -- both as a hired hand and in sales -- Tim Stoddard began to get the itch to do it himself.
"My wife Lisa was a big instigator of it," Stoddard said. "She kept telling me I could do it.”
So he enrolled in free classes from the Small Business Administration at Geneseo College and began planning what would become American Home Remodeling.
Ten years ago, Tim and Lisa launched their company with a vision for a firm that would be known for its quality and its personal attention to customer care.
"We didn't need to be a big fish," Stoddard said. "We didn't need to be the biggest company out there. We wanted to be a company known for honesty, doing the right thing and having the right people in place."
In part, that's how the name of the company came to be. American Home Remodeling sounded to Tim like a name that would stand for quality. It also helped that the company name would begin with "A" so it would be at the top of Yellow Page listings.
The company name also led to one of American Home Remodeling's signature marketing features -- its fleet of trucks painted in patriotic red, white and blue.
Lisa's cousin paints murals professionally and one day Tim asked her, "Can you make my truck look like it ran through an American flag?" She said she would give it a try.
The company now has four flag-painted trucks, each one a little different, he said.
"I went to the bank to make a deposit one day and a lady came up to me and said, 'Are you the fellow with the flag truck?'" Stoddard recalled. He said he was. "She said, 'I looked at the truck and I looked away and then I looked at it again and I thought, it's not offensive at all.'"
Stoddard said that's when he knew the trucks were helping project an image of a reputable, local company.
American Home Remodeling's bread-and-butter business, according to Stoddard, is roofing and siding, but he's also proud of his carpentry department, which allows him to take interior and exterior building jobs.
The siding business isn't about taking any job and putting the least expensive siding on a house, in keeping with Stoddard's goal of being a reputable mid-size business.
Stoddard said his company uses top-of-the-line materials and tries to maintain the character of the house. For example, the slats of the siding will match the width of the original wood clapboards, and if the house had gingerbread shingles, that decorative feature will be retained.
"I don’t do many rental homes because we’re too high for rentals," Stoddard said. "They want to go with the cheapest product they can in most cases. We don’t really want to have jobs out there with our name on it that look like that."
The Stoddards clearly have a love for Batavia's older homes. They live in -- and are restoring -- one of the Homelius-designed houses on Ellicott Avenue -- and in 2004 they purchased the Doty Mansion at the corner of Jackson Street and Highland Park.
In 2006, they completed the major indoor renovation of four apartments inside what was once one of Batavia's grandest residences (maybe only the long-ago destroyed Richmond Mansion could beat it).
The Stoddard's bought the mansion with only $5,000 down, with the previous owner carrying the mortgage and a bank financing more than $50,000 in restoration work.
"Once we went into the Doty Mansion, it was just a mess," Stoddard said. "It was just HUD. There was no heat into two of the apartments for two years. They had space heaters. There was raw sewage coming from the upper apartment to the lower one.
"We started demo’ing and you could see past all the dirt and debris that it was really a nice house at one time," Stoddard added.
At first, buying the Doty Mansion was just an investment. For the price, the Stoddard's figured they could fix it up and rent out the apartments to reliable tenants and turn a profit, but the restoration work had unexpected benefits for American Home Remodeling.
Through the work, the Stoddards tapped into a regional network of specialists in woodworking, masonry, stained glass and other specialties.
"Now, I’m not really too unsure of myself or afraid to try stuff," Stoddard said. "There’s so many people out there whom I now know who can do special things. It was kind of a blindfolded thing. I didn’t realize how beneficial it would be by working on that mansion."
There isn't enough restoration work in Batavia, Stoddard said, to make that a focus of American Home Remodeling, but he thinks that if more people knew the option was there -- even though it can be expensive work -- they might take that approach with their older homes.
"Somebody might have molding that is really ornate plaster, but bits and pieces are broken," Stoddard said. "If they knew we could come in and save that and restore it, then I think they would entertain that idea. I think a lot of people don’t realize it can be restored and fixed so they turn around and get rid of it."
But whether through renovations, siding or roofing, American Home Remodeling has been growing, Stoddard said. He projects this year the company will gross $1 million for the first time.
During peak building season, Stoddard said he employs as many as 18 people, and that's as big as he wants to get.
"We had 22 one summer, our fourth year in business, and I was just pulling my hair out. It got to be a little too much to deal with," Stoddard said.
Photo: Tim Stoddard, right, talking with the owner of a home his company re-sided for the previous owner.
If you're fascinated by the Doty Mansion, here's a rare chance to see inside. I just received this e-mail from Lisa Stoddard, who owns the grand old home with her husband, Tim.
We'll be having an open house this Thursday the 23rd at 7:00 pm and another one Thurs, July 30th at 7:00 pm. This will be for the lower apt. Any perspective tenants will have a chance to see the apt. and fill out an application at those times. Nosy neighbors are welcome!! and anyone else interested in the history and the architecture. People should park on Highland Ave and go up the back driveway to the first door by the mailboxes.