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Local elevator company president talks about how he wound up in Saugus and the flooding that threatens his business


  Editor’s Note: For this week’s interview, we sat down with Glenn E. Bowie, the president of Hamilton Elevator Interiors, Inc. at his warehouse on Belair Street in East Saugus. Bowie, 64, is a 1978 graduate of Malden High School who went to work for Hamilton Elevator Interiors 45 years ago as a welder and wound up buying the company about eight years ago. The company topped $4.2 million in sales last year. The company has a payroll of about 12 workers – including five in the shop, three in the office and four in the field. His 34-year-old son Scott is one of the shop workers. According to a company profile on its website, Hamilton Elevator Interiors originated in 1920. It has been designing, building and renovating custom elevator enclosures, interiors and entrances. In addition to running an elevator company, Bowie collects antique cars, enjoys photography and writes poetry and lyrics for music. He writes poetry and plays blues harmonica with John Butcher. Highlights from last week’s interviews follow.


  Q: So how did you wind up working most of your adult life in the elevator business?

  A: In 1979, I was working for a welder in Brookline. My brother and I were working for him, putting up a two-story building. The pope was coming to town. The whole city was shutting down, but we had to work. He was paying us crap, so we asked him for a raise and he said “no.” The same day I left, I responded to an ad for a job in Stoneham. They said they needed somebody with welding experience. It was an elevator company. It turned out to be a job where I fit right in, so I took the job.

  Q: How did you wind up working in Saugus?

  A: I was in Stoneham for about 10 years. Then the owner, John Hamilton, moved the company to 501 Main St. in the late 1980s. Then we outgrew that place. And about 20 years ago, we came here to Belair Street. I owe a lot to John Hamilton, because this was his company. And I pretty much built it into what it was until he sold me the place in 2016.

  Q: When you first arrived here on Belair Street, did you have flooding issues?

  A: No. It never really flooded. We just got rain puddles and they would dissipate in a day or so.

  Q: When did you first notice the flooding?

  A: Around the same time that COVID came. We’d get two or three high tides and then the third one seemed like the one that caused the problem. It would come up in the back of our tires in the parking lot. Within hours, it would drain. In 2021, that’s the first time it came into the building. Up until then, we really didn’t have to deal with it.

  Q: How did it go from there?

  A: The first time it came into the building was on a weekend. It was about an inch deep. The following year, it was about two inches deep. And during this recent one was three inches. Slowly, but surely, it started coming up.

  Q: And how much damage did you experience from the flooding?

  A: We’ve gone through three furnaces in three years.

  Q: What’s been the estimated cost of the damage?

  A: Probably close to $100,000, which includes the $6,000 flood insurance we have to pay each year. And having to replace the heating system all of the time. There’s lost product. Metal got rusty and wood got damaged during the first two floods. We had wall-to-wall carpeting in the office area that had to be ripped out. We were worried about mildew. We had to rip out the whole kitchen. We don’t want any black mold.

The water came up to the bottom of the truck in the parking lot. It won’t start now. The battery is junk.

  Q: Anything else that you experience down here when it floods?

  A: Besides the money damage, it kind of disrupts everything. People can’t get to work. There’s a whole snowball effect from it.

  Q: Please tell me a little bit about your business.

  A: We’ve been in business a long time. We’ve done all of the major hospitals and schools in the state.

  Q: What was your biggest project?

 A: During the recession in the 80’s, we did 64 elevators in the John Hancock Building. We had marble shipped up from Texas on big freight trucks – 64 crates for the 64 elevators. It was a project that lasted a year. I know we would have gone out of business if we didn’t get that account.

  Q: What about today?

  A: We do the elevators in all of the colleges, hospitals and hotels.

  Q: What’s the big thing these days?

  A: The MBTA is our biggest project. We do all of the MBTA glass elevators. With the glass, you can see in and it’s a deterrent for sexual assaults. We do 10 to 15 of these a year. And in the elevators, we use urine-proof stainless steel. They’re not going to rust and will last forever.

  Q: You said you love Saugus.

A: Yes, I do, and we’d rather stay here. It cost us $150,000 just to move here 20 years ago. I like this location because of the nature in the area. It’s quiet and secluded on a dead-end street. And it’s close to Boston. But the nuisance of the flooding has got us talking about moving.

  Q: You were talking about that at last week’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting (Jan. 23). You talked about your own experience and the need to reactivate the floodgate project.

 A: Before that meeting, I didn’t even know there was a plan for flood gates. It kind of makes me mad because if they [the federal and state governments] had dealt with it back then [in 1993, when the state Secretary of Environmental Affairs called a halt to the project], we wouldn’t have a problem now.

 Q: Because the project was halted, you have witnessed a growing problem that seems to be getting worse and worse every year.

  A: It sure does. The water can get four feet deep in the middle of the road. I’ve seen a guy where the whole front of his jeep was under water. And we had neighbors four years ago who just bought a house across the street, and they had a little green Honda and they couldn’t get down the street to get to their new house because the water in front of the house was four feet deep. They ended up selling their house because of that.

To tell you how bad it gets down here – I bought a furnace for a house in Malden; it’s 30 years old and still going strong. I’ve put four furnaces in during a four-year time period while here on Belair Street. We had a crew come in and rip out the wall-to-wall carpeting last week. Look at the paint on the cabinets peeling because of the mold.

Q: Anything else that you would like to share?

  A: I really like doing this [running the elevator business]. It’s another creative outlet for me.

  Q: You consider yourself a very creative person?

  A: Yes. The writing and photography has taken me on this unbelievable journey.

  Q: How long have you been writing?

  A: Since 2008. I didn’t set out to be a writer, but just started writing one day. I went for a hypnosis session and came out as a writer. I was having premonition dreams my entire life, so I went to a friend of the family – a spiritual healer – and started writing. I went home that night and I wrote four poems. I never desired to be a writer. It just took off from there.

  Q: I understand you have an interest in music, too.

  A: I always had that rock and roll lifestyle. I started going to rock concerts when I was 12. The Allman Brothers was my first concert. I used to go to four to five concerts a week.

  Q: Do you play a musical instrument?

  A: I play the harmonica. I’ve been playing for three to four years for John Butcher. I love music. I love the rock and roll lifestyle. They have tried to pay me, but I don’t take anything. I let the band split up the money.

I was down in Nashville, writing the lyrics for songs with James Taylor’s bands.

  A: I love old cars. I collect antique cars, but can’t keep them down here because of the flooding.

  Q: How many cars do you have in your collection and what are they?

  A: I have five: a ’69 Pontiac Firebird; a ’67 Acadian – it’s pretty rare – they only made 370; a ’64 Chevy Nova wagon; a ’65 Plymouth Fury; and a ’65 Chevy C-10 pickup.

  Q: So, what would you tell your congressmen who have an opportunity to fund the floodgate project?

  A: We’re going to move at some point. I’m not sure how the floodgate project would impact us right now. I think something should have been done 30 to 40 years ago. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go over the years. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who are going to move because of the flooding. I don’t think a lot of people know about the flooding potential when they move in.

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