Monday, May 13, 2024

How entrepreneur Tovi Gareau Bliss helps shape Cranberry Lake’s future

Adirondack Almanack contributor, Susan Sweeney Smith, who has written stories about Cranberry Lake, has shared a series of profiles highlighting Cranberry Lake community leaders who dedicate much of their time and energy to volunteer work. These profiles were originally published on the Cranberry Blog. Check out the Cranberry Blog here, and please enjoy Susan’s fifth submission, a profile on Tovi Gareau Bliss below.

Tovi Gareau Bliss, Owner of Bliss General Construction
Husband: Lyndon Bliss
Children: Five children ranging in age from 14 to 24.

What brought you to Cranberry Lake?
One day I was sitting at my computer and I said to Lyndon, I would like a camp. I found this place on the Internet and we came up and looked at it and then talked to Denise Barstow who was the relator selling the property. We had no intention to do work up here at all, we intended to use it for a getaway. We bought the house, fixed it up and then the business took off because everyone saw what we are capable of and how fast it was done.

When?
Going on five years now and our camp is almost done – 99.9% done. We can only work on our camp on our down time so it takes a bit to get done what we want at our own place.

When did you start Bliss General Construction LLC?
We started in Sandy Creek in 2013, so over 10 years ago. Before that I always had executive assistant type of office jobs. My degree is in business. Lyndon worked either farming or construction in his earlier years.

What led you to start this business?
I grew up in entrepreneurship, my parents were entrepreneurs as they have had multiple businesses from a fishing lodge to a craft store to a cleaning station and to a construction company. I grew up around construction so I understand it very well. I met Lyndon and he happened to be in construction. I am very good at managing so it is second nature to own and manage a business. And then we decided to start our own. The “perfect storm” is what I call it.

I am pretty quiet and travel a lot back and forth between counties for work and family. Lyndon has a very social personality, and he is the “face” of the company because clients see him everyday at the job location or in the field, even though I am the owner.
One of my favorite first clients said, “Whoa I had no clue that a girl could do what we were capable of doing.” Never have figured out if that’s an insult or compliment lol.

When you first came here, did you think you’d end up staying here?
When we first came we did not think we would perform business here since we planned on relaxing and fishing a lot. But here we are.

What were your first jobs here?
The HUB was the first project we did in Cranberry Lake. Denise Barstow called me and asked us to submit a bid because we were a woman owned business. She runs a woman owned business so she understands. We had only briefly met Denise when we
bought our house, she was our relator, other than that we didn’t know a soul up here. Denise wanted to work along side of us. For that I am very grateful.

Then COVID hit and material availability came to a screaming halt and more than tripled in price. HUB materials came special order out of Ohio – and then shipping was a problem. COVID was a disaster for contractors. After NYS shut all construction companies down, we completely remodeled our place because we had the time since we couldn’t work. We had luckily already ordered our materials and they had been dropped at our camp about 3 weeks before COVID hit, so we lucked out. Others, not so much.

What have been your biggest challenges in the business?
Respecting the fact it is woman owned and I know what I’m doing. Half the time Lyndon has to call in the material orders in because the person at the other end of the call doesn’t understand that I know what I’m doing. Lyndon is the builder, but I am the owner and I run the business. From estimates to contracts, walk throughs, punch-outs, payroll, invoicing, material ordering/pick up, errands and face to face client meetings.

What are your unique challenges as a woman in the business?
Being taken seriously. People trusting a woman to know what needs to be done in order to build something. We are here to make people happy because we enjoy building things, we are hands on people. If we didn’t love it then we wouldn’t do it.

What have been your biggest challenges in creating a good life in such a small town?
Separating work time and family time. Creating boundaries that clients need to respect, they have their own down time and family time, so do we. We can’t continue to work and be on call 24/7/365.

Who Inspires You? Why?
I would say my father and my husband because they are both hard workers and wonderful providers. Lyndon is like my father. Lyndon (and my father as well) will do whatever he has to do to provide for us to make sure we have what we need. He will run down and do a bid with me, then come home and mow the lawn or do the dishes if I ask. He’s my true partner.

My father is a wonderful gardener, builder and is great with helping my mom with her needs. My mother has been sick for over 6 years. These last two/three weeks have been the hardest of my life and it has shown me how quick life changes and that you have to be able to keep moving on. My mother is a wonderful cook, decorator, sewer/quilter and great at making a house a home. I got my decorating abilities from her and I also got my ability to run a business and home from her because she ran all their businesses. Everyone who steps into our house in Sandy Creek or our camp in Cranberry Lake always comment on my decorating.

For me, I carry on my father’s legacy through construction even though I’m a woman. My husband was born on a dairy farm — he grew up as a child milking cows and bailing hay. He’s used to hard work. He’s also one of 10 kids so he’s used to chaos, loudness and laughter. I grew up with in a very clean, organized and quiet home. I’ve never worked harder in my life than I have in the last ten years owning my own business. Owning a business has been more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done before. To see the final product that we built, is a wonderful feeling.

What are the best memories you have of Cranberry?
For me it was the first day we drove up Columbian Road. I could smell the fir and pine trees, the fires in people’s fireplaces or outside campfires and I said to my husband that this place is home. I hadn’t even seen the house yet (our house that we ended up buying), I just knew. We then drove around and went down Lone Pine Road and saw the state park and they let us drive through it and I saw the beach, the basketball court. I knew then that this is a place I can make a home. When I was a kid we visited and camped on the opposite side of the Park, we went to the Old Forge region, so the ADKS have always had a wonderful smell that triggers wonderful childhood memories…

Lyndon looked at me and said are you’re gonna make me redo this house too… and then of course he did.

What do you hope for the future here?
Lots more fishing. Our down time is fishing. My parents had a fishing lodge so I grew up with fish all around me.

What are your hopes for the business?
I fear when Lyndon gets tired. I worry about the time he can’t do it anymore. My father is a silent dweller – a silent worrier. Lyndon is- every day is a new day. He believes he can always find a way. He hates the word can’t because he believes he can. Lyndon is my strength. When he gets to no, then we’re in trouble.

I have health issues so it takes a lot out of me but I’ve tried to slow down a little — 12 hour days are no longer in our vocabulary. I have to have time to be with my parents, be with my family. I can’t keep spreading myself so thin. If my list is long then Lyndon will get up at 3am to make sure we can get it done. We have to figure out a healthier balance because it’s taken it’s toll on me.

What are your hopes for future of the town?
I hope it stays the way it is – doesn’t change once this generation is gone. I have a feeling that the next generation might not want things the way this generation has them. I hope the town stays the same. All the events we go to, I hope they continue. The people who are putting all the activities together are older and I hope they don’t sell their homes to strangers who don’t want to live here and only rent it to vacationers. I hope
properties are passed on in family lines who carry on the traditions. I hope it stays a small town filled with families who care…

Any other thoughts?
We thank Cranberry Lake for welcoming and accepting us and giving us a chance…. We recommend other local businesses all the time… it’s hard to do everything because we just don’t have the time to. We want to help other businesses grow, too.

Photo at top: Tovi Gareau Bliss, Owner of Bliss General Construction with her husband, Lyndon Bliss. Photos provided by the author.

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Susan Sweeney Smith grew up in Peru, NY and is a 28 year resident of Cranberry Lake. She raised kids and donkeys and dogs and cats in the hamlet. During her professional career she worked in philanthropy and community relations for North Country Public Radio, SUNY Potsdam and supported a host of smaller nfp’s in the region with their philanthropic projects. Today, she’s a community volunteer who believes in Cranberry Lake magic. You can find her writing at https://www.cranberryblog.org/




3 Responses

  1. noname says:

    The article is introduced as “Cranberry Lake community leaders who dedicate much of their time and energy to volunteer work” but reads more like a business advisement.

    • Susan Sweeney Smith says:

      Tovi and Lyndon do a lot for the community. She just won’t talk about it. I have found this to be true of many women I have asked to do this… many won’t be interviewed at all. This has been true for some men too but in my very small non scientific sample, it is more true of women.

  2. fran belge says:

    what a great story from the bliss’s . I hope for their cintinued sucess, and for other s to absorb their courage and drive to take a chance for the good of all … family, friends, and community.

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