New York Small Business Keeps Broadway Stages Alive

Center Line Studios disaster planning and preparedness helps business grow


NEW YORK, NY--- One of the most challenging events that a small business owner can face is dealing with a natural disaster.  Center Line Studios owners Shelley and Roger Gray have seen a few disasters with over 25 years in business, and their continued partnership with the Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Center, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, has helped them overcome these challenges and continue to grow as a small business.


Center Line Studios is located in New Windsor, New York and is a theatrical scene shop that specializes in building scenery for Broadway shows, operas, and television.  Founded in 1986 by Shelley and Roger Gray, Center Line Studios has grown to support productions such as Hamlet, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, War Horse, Godspell, and performances at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. With such a large portfolio, Shelley and Roger Gray have become experienced business owners in a tough arts industry, and their experience helped them survive through hard times in the aftermath of unfortunate events, to include the terrorist attacks of September 11, and Hurricane Irene.


Following September 11, 2001, Center Line Studios was among many businesses that were in trouble as New York went into recovery mode and the Broadway business slowed down.  Already in debt after the previous purchase of new materials and limited work requests, Center Line Studios had considered bankruptcy.  Instead, they decided to work harder and diversify their efforts to be able to pay back every single dollar owed to their suppliers. This led to receiving an SBA Economic Injury Disaster loan for $385,000 to assist with costs, and also meant downsizing and moving to a location that was a third of the size of their original location.  Through the following decade they would continue to adapt to the changing industry in ways that would allow them to recover back toward success.


“There is so much good advice out there and sometimes we as business owners think we are alone in this,” Shelley Gray said. “I have always considered my accountant, lawyer, and lenders as partners because they’ve handled many companies and understand trends and ways to improve your bottom line.”


In 2011 as they began to fully recover, they realized that the size of their smaller location was preventing them from taking on larger work projects, so they looked to purchase new property and a larger space to enable the company to grow. With the purchase of a new building in March 2011 known as Shamrock Creek, they worked hard through the summer to get the 240,000 square foot space ready for work only to have to deal with a devastating visit from Hurricane Irene in 2011. The destruction of the hurricane flooded the lower level of the new building, bringing with it garbage and eight feet of river sand.  Relocation plans were delayed, and shortly after in early 2012 a shop fire resulted in relocating the office to Shelley and Roger’s dining room table for the next few months.


The remainder of 2012 showed the strength of Shelley and Roger’s perseverance for their business through their partnerships in obtaining small business loans that would assist with their recovery and growth.  In February of 2012 they met with Mid-Hudson SBDC advisor Myriam Bouchard to work on securing loans that would help finish their renovations, and to also work on a revamped business plan and financial projections. Soon they were able to move their office out of their home and back into the new headquarters building.


Shelley has credited Myriam Bouchard and her relationship with the Mid-Hudson SBDC as her lifeline. The SBDC provided the right tools for their loan package to approach lenders with, and Myriam stayed with Shelley and Roger every step of the way, coaching them right through the end.


“Myriam listened, organized my thoughts, and saw the potential in this very convoluted project that I so believed in,” Shelley said. “Nothing is going to happen very quickly, and you need patience, but Myriam kept us steadfast on the end result.”


By the end of 2012, their small business loans included a $2.1 million loan with Key Bank, a $300,000 SBA 7a loan, and an SBA Physical Disaster Loan to help complete their renovations, move their business forward, and save 10 jobs while creating 25 more. Their resilience has resulted in a busy 2013 schedule, with work on four contracts with the New York City Opera and other large productions for the rest of the year.


“I get up in the morning and can’t wait to get to work,” said Shelley. “I feel very blessed to be able to say that after 27 years, and I think if most people try to get into something they truly love, work becomes easy.”


“Shelley and Roger Gray are a small business survival story in every way,” said SBA Acting New York District Director Adalberto Quijada. “Not only have they managed survival through natural disasters, but they’ve also successfully scaled their business to accommodate new projects and continue to grow after their recovery.”