Vol. LXIII, No. 46
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
TEAMWORK: Every day is different, with different challenges. We have a wealth of knowledge. We can handle any project, from little jobs to big jobs. We know how to handle the challenges and obstacles that you can encounter in glass work. Robbie Nelson (second from right), owner of Nelson Glass & Aluminum, is shown, from left to right, general manager Alice Kent, founder Bob Nelson, and shop foreman Jim Bernard.
Sixty years and still counting!
Nelson Glass & Aluminum is unique in Princeton today. An independent, family-owned and operated business that has continued to provide Princeton and the area with knowledgeable, friendly service and quality products, it has a proud history.
In 1949, Bob Nelson returned to his hometown with an engineering degree from Cornell and a goal of starting his own business. It didnt take long to discover that Princeton lacked a glass company, and he set out to fill that need. Mr. Nelson wanted to get some hands-on experience, so he went to Ivans Glass Company in Trenton, and worked for nothing, just so he could understand how they did things.
After learning the business, he opened Nelson Glass in the front of the former Johnson and Ferrra Garage, just behind what is now the Ivy Inn.
The bulk of the business was cutting flat automobile glass, explains Robbie Nelson, Mr. Nelsons daughter and the firms current owner. The store evolved into repairs especially a lot of broken windows. In the beginning, that cost $7. Dad saw a need, and he was always concerned with being a full-service glass company.
It was a different time back then, she reflects. One time, Dad had to replace a broken front window at Coxs store. He had no one on staff, and a police officer was there. It was a big plate glass, and Dad asked if the officer could come back and help him set the glass in place, when the glass was ready. The officer said sure, and he came back to help put it in.
Mr. Nelson worked out of the Nassau Street location for 10 years, and in 1960, he moved the business to the current 45 Spring Street location to a building which he had constructed.
The business continued to grow and evolve, and began to provide aluminum storm doors and windows, then mirror work, shower doors, insulated glass, and sliding patio doors. Work began to be divided between commercial and residential projects.
Nelson Glass still does things by hand. The expert staff will custom-cut all mirrors, and make perfectly-fitting glass table tops. They also replace defective (foggy) double-paned insulated glass.
The big thing now is double-paned insulated glass, says Ms. Nelson. It can get moisture between the panes, though, and needs to be replaced. This double-paned insulated glass has basically replaced the old storm windows. There is less maintenance, and it allows people to have larger windows. They are also energy-efficient.
One of four Nelson sisters who grew up in the family firm, (Mr. Nelson saw to it that all the girls knew how to reglaze a broken window!), Ms. Nelson became owner in 1996.
When we were kids, my sisters and I helped at the store, she says. I never thought in a million years that Id end up here. After college, I was very involved in music, and had my own rock band. Then, in the mid-80s, I worked here part-time as the bookkeeper. I always loved working with figures, and I could work around my schedule with the band. I really learned all about the administrative end of the business.
They also got mechanized and computerized! We brought in computers, and got a 286 DOS machine, reports Ms. Nelson. Fortunately, the company trained us.
Changing times bring changing needs, and Nelson Glass has always adapted to new markets and directions. Wood repair, especially fixing rotted window frames, is a specialty. Jim Bernard, our shop foreman, is wonderful working with wood and repairs, says Ms. Nelson. The staff also engineers and installs frameless shower enclosures. These are very popular now. The heavy frameless glass opens up the bathroom – there is a minimum of metal.
Rescreening screens and hanging heavy mirrors are other services. Also, some people still have the old wood framed single glazed windows which require the aluminum triple track storm windows, says Ms. Nelson. They like the old Colonial style, the traditional look.
A popular newer service is filming. she adds. This is a procedure that is now perfected. A transparent film, very slightly tinted but imperceptible, is placed over the window. It cuts down UV rays and helps eliminate fading of artwork, photographs, and furniture, and also reduces glaring light from glass.
While much of the glass business has remained the same (theres always a broken window to be replaced!), some changes have taken place. There is more use of semi-obscure glass, which can be tempered for safety, explains Ms. Nelson. This is especially desirable for in and around entrance doors and showers.
She is very proud of the quality products Nelson Glass provides. The bulk of our business is repair, and were dealing with a lot of generic replacement. We try to get a good warranty on our insulated glass. We offer the best quality we can, and we always stand behind our work.
You can get a wonderful replacement window with a vinyl frame, a frameless shower door, a double-hung or casement window, and we offer competitive prices, anywhere from $6 to $15,000 and more.
Another specialty is sliding patio doors, including Arcadia patio doors with thermal-broken frames, she adds. They dont transfer the cold from outside to the inside, and they have high-performance glass and also tandem rollers that make the doors roll very smoothly.
Nelson Glass has provided glass for a number of Princeton and area offices and institutions. We did the outside glass covering of the huge stained glass window for the Nassau Christian Center on the corner of Nassau and Chambers Streets. We have also done work for Princeton University, law firms, many large companies along Route One, as well as private residences.
We also like to help people become do-it-yourselfers, she continues. Parents bring in kids who broke a window with a baseball. They buy the glass and the putty, and the kid learns how to fix the window just the way we did! We encourage hands-on. They also may need a mirror to make a light box for a school science project, and we help them fit it into the box.
In todays often impersonal approach to business, Nelson Glass is set apart by its attention to customers, she adds. We have so many regular customers. We see different generations in the same family. Glass work is very specialized. There is a proper way of installing glass, and we are able to help people understand that this is what you should be doing and why using the right glue for mirrors, the right caulking for showers, etc.
The staff here is so knowledgeable. There are hundreds of different types of residential windows, for example, requiring different ways of installation. We know how to adapt to specific situations. Custom work is a very big part of our business.
Also, continues Ms. Nelson, our name and reputation are what makes our business, and we will continue to live up to that with our great staff. People stay with us a long time. Our general manager, Alice Kent has been with us since 1964! We couldnt get along without her.
Carrying on the business started by her father is very important to Ms. Nelson. It is very meaningful to me that I am able to continue the family business, that I can continue my dads philosophy in a way that we can be proud of.
Mr. Nelson is no longer actively involved in the business, she reports, but his concept and philosophy continues to be the foundation of the firms operating procedure.
Dad has been coping with dementia and is in an assisted living center, says Ms. Nelson. But we want all his friends and associates from the business to know that he is happy and the same pleasant person that everyone remembers, and that he is content with his life. And I know that he would look forward to our continuing to support and serve the community, as he always did.
Nelson Glass is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (609) 924-2880.
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