Bloomfield glass-glazing company survives decades with 'attention to detail'

BY Stan Simpson
Special to the Hartford Business Journal

HBJ Photos | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photos | Steve Laschever
Michael Romanelli's Bloomfield-based AA Glass Inc. is involved in a unique niche in the glass business. It does glass-glazing work, which includes the practice of cutting glass and staging, framing and caulking windows or glass products.
Michael Romanelli can look out the front window of his Bloomfield glass company and see progress — literally.

Window-framing work is going on at a 30,000-square-foot concrete building abutting Blue Hills Avenue. It will soon be a new location of Aramark Uniform Services Inc. There was a need for measurement, preparation and installation of 24, 8-foot by 6-foot insulated and tempered windows. With a bid of $80,000, Romanelli's AA Glass Inc. won the request for proposals.

Securing the contract for AA Glass Inc. started with Romanelli seeing a sign on the property announcing the construction project.

"When you see stuff like that, you get right on it," he said, adding that after a few phone calls he was able to engage the bidding process. Six people will work on the job.

Romanelli's attention to detail exemplifies the extra effort that has to be made in a business with such a unique niche as "glazing" — the practice of cutting glass and staging, framing and caulking windows or glass products.

The company opened in 1974 as Affirmative Action Glass Inc., in a small Hartford garage on Barbour Street. It specializes in window installation, custom glass, shower enclosures, storefronts, doors and repairs for residential and commercial clients.

Roger Romanelli, Michael's dad, and Bill French were the original owners. Roger Romanelli and French were friends and experienced glazers. They wanted to open their own respective shops. A business advisor encouraged them to partner and, because French was African-American, open the firm as a minority-owned business.

To make up for past exclusion of minorities and minority-owned firms from publicly financed building projects, government set-aside programs were being put in place. Minority firms could compete for building projects, knowing that a small percentage of each project — about 10 percent — was earmarked for them.

"Everybody was looking for a piece of the action in Hartford,'' said Roger Romanelli, now 79 and retired.

A decade after opening, Roger Romanelli bought out French — and later other partners.

In 1999, Roger passed the business reigns to Michael. He serves as company president and the person who actively generates bigger business for the firm. Joshua Viera — Michael's son-in-law — serves as office manager, overseeing service requests.

"It's a lot more than you realize when you're just an employee,'' said Michael Romanelli, 53. "Managing money and employees. Making everything work. Employees is a big one. Trying to get the right employees and keep them here; it's hard. There's a lot of work, but you can't always find good help. You need to know a multitude of different things, and not everybody is geared for that."

AA Glass currently employs six people. Licensed glazers can earn from $21-an-hour and up.

Roger Romanelli learned the glazing business while he was a young man in the late 1950s from his father-in-law. Romanelli later began teaching then 13-year-old Michael Romanelli how to cut and frame glass. Another son, Roger Jr., is also in the glazing business, but not with the family business.

Though Michael's duties as president and owner are far reaching, what he still enjoys most about the job is when he can get in the trenches and work on some windows.

"I still like to work the field,'' said Romanelli. "It's my passion. I'd rather be out there. I don't get out there as much as I used to, but at least a few days a week."

The business once expanded to Springfield, but that office closed after three years.

Over the last 44 years, AA Glass has served "several hundreds" of customers, Romanelli estimates. Many years ago, the company worked on a $1 million project at Bradley Airport; a major window replacement job at the old Weaver High School; and in recent years secured contracts for glazing work at a renovated McDonald's in Bloomfield and two Chick-fil-A's — one in North Haven and Southington

He projects that the window business will continue to emerge with new technology, safety codes, energy efficiencies and aesthetic preferences. Where once there were unsafe plate glass windows and windows embedded with wires, or made of plastic, the evolution of glass includes annealed glass (which shatters into shards when broken); tempered glass (fractures into small pieces when broken); and thicker laminated glass (holds together when shattered).

Father Roger calls glazing "probably the most diversified trade of them all'' because you must be knowledgeable about glass, metal, wood, concrete and everything from mirrors to shower doors.

As far as future growth, Michael Romanelli said that is the key to sustainability. Right now, however, "we're trying to do our best with what we got going.''

Stan Simpson is the principal of Stan Simpson Enterprises LLC, a strategic communications consulting firm. He is also host of Fox 61's "The Stan Simpson Show," which airs Saturdays, 5:30 a.m.