Whether promoting a sailing crew, painting ski lifts, selling makeup, or dealing in commercial property, Bradley puts his mind and heart into the work
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
By listening to his own muse, Yves Bradley has crafted a career encompassing his work in charge of the commercial division at Pomerleau Real Estate in Burlington and a deep dedication to community service.
In the spring of 1989, Yves Bradley was working as a promoter for a sailing team. It became evident, he says, that he needed to find something different to do.
Four years before, after graduating at age 21 from the University of Vermont with a degree in political science, he had headed to France for an internship and ended up working as an assistant to the minister of culture and communication. After a year, he returned to the States and worked at various occupations such as health club trainer and promoting sailboat crews. It was time to settle down.
“I was fortunate enough to be offered a job with the Bank of Boston, which back then was huge,” says Bradley. The bank had offered him a job in what was its loan officer development program. “They paid you to become an investment banker, trained you for two years — a pretty good gig.
“I went to the interview in Boston, had a new gray suit, was wearing a white shirt, red tie, white handkerchief. I remember being walked around by the representative from the bank and being showed the floor where I would be working. I saw all these people wearing gray suits and white shirts. I got a headache — really.
“They took me up to lunch and said, ‘How would you feel about coming to work for the Bank of Boston?’ and I said, ‘I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.’ From then on it was a very uncomfortable lunch.”
When his parents learned about it, they were “a bit taken aback by it,” he says with a laugh.” They would be further taken aback when he later told them he was going to paint ski lift towers.
Bradley, who now runs the commercial real estate division at Pomerleau Real Estate in Burlington, could be said to have come from patrician roots. His father is a Classics professor at Dartmouth College, and his mother studied at modeling school in her native Paris. Although they lived in Thetford Center when he was born, he was born at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., and was, thus, not “Vermont born.”
When he was 3, he moved with his parents to Athens, Greece, where his father would teach, and a year later, they moved to Hanover, N.H., where Bradley says he “really grew up.”
Having turned down the Bank of Boston, he proceeded to also turn down a sales position at IDX, telling them he was interested in marketing, not sales.
His job as promoter for the racing crew had him making calls to Europe all morning long, after which he’d take the afternoons off and go skiing. “I can remember heading to the top of the mountain at Sugarbush North. It was a sunny afternoon, and I saw a kid on the chairlift in front of us take his ski pole and strike the tower. It made a big mark, and I remember thinking, I wonder who paints those.”
Bradley had painted houses during high school and college summers, and was again doing that for extra funds. “Tim McKegney — the skipper of the boat and an old friend from college — and I decided to start a company painting ski lifts.”
He sold his car to raise money for equipment and a van. Things were slow at first.
They approached the manager of Stratton Mountain, “a younger guy in his early 20s,” says Bradley. “He said, ‘Look, you seem like nice guys, but I don’t know you from Adam. Why should I hire you?’ I said, ‘You give us a small lift to paint, you buy the paint, and we’ll paint it for free. If you like it, you give us more work; if you don’t like it, no harm no foul.’”
They ended up painting all the lifts at Stratton Mountain, “and each of the next four to five years, we would double the volume of the year before. We were traveling as far as Pennsylvania, had a name for ourselves, and were good at it.”
By then, Bradley had married Judy Van Riper, a woman he had encountered in 1983, the beginning of his junior year at UVM. It was now 1991, and Judy had applied to become a franchisee for the Body Shop. Bradley joined her on her application, and at the end of three years, they began the process of deciding they might open a Vermont store.
He was about 30 at the time. The painting business had expanded to include railroad bridges, “but the business was seasonal and very physically demanding, and I wasn’t sure I could see myself doing it for the rest of my life.”
When the franchise came through, he and Tim sold the business and stayed on as consultants for a season, then the Bradleys opened the Body Shop on Church Street in June 1994.
The Bradleys ran the Body Shop together for 10 years, during which they explored, and turned down, the opportunity to open a second site in Manchester. He came to feel like he was going through the motions of his job and no longer challenged by it.
“The Body Shop was moving strongly toward a corporate store model as opposed to a franchise model,” he says, “and it was becoming an economic model that would no longer sustain the both of us.”
An opportunity arose to acquire the building that housed the Body Shop. “It was through Pomerleau, and we ended up acquiring the real estate with a couple partners. That kind of got me interested in real estate.”
Bradley approached Ernie Pomerleau, whom he knew from having served together on boards and community activities, and asked what he thought about his joining the team. The match was made, he says, “and I’ve been here coming up on 11 years. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in what I do. I now run the commercial brokerage division here and have for many years, and I’m really lucky, because I’ve got a job that I love to do.”
The job appears to love him back, as does the community he works with. “Yves genuinely cares for his community,” says Rick Davis, president of The Davis Co., president and co-founder of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, and Bradley’s client and friend.
“He’s got passion, and that really helps with his real estate brokerage, because he has a unique gift of really listening. Whether he’s representing a landlord or tenant, seller or buyer, he’s about listening to what their needs are, and articulating them well to the other parties.”
That approach seems to come naturally to Bradley, and he acknowledges that he’s “lucky enough, with the amount of volume I do, to be able to give my honest opinion.”
He serves a long list of community organizations that, he confesses, is “a stupid amount of boards” and includes the Burlington Planning Commission, which he chairs; Burlington College, which he chairs; the South End Arts + Business Association, where he is vice chair; the Chittenden Commercial Real Estate Association; Hope Works (formerly the Women’s Rape Crisis Center) where he became the first male director; the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce; the International Council of Shopping Centers; and the COTS facilities committee.
“I’m a funny guy,” he says. “People do different things to raise their profile. I know how to play golf, but don’t except for a tournament or two a year. When we opened the Body Shop, I learned that when you do business in a community that supports you and your business, you have a duty to give back to your community, and for me that is involvement.”
“Involvement” also includes mentoring. “When I started to get my foot in the commercial real estate pool, he was my go-to guy,” says Jessica Bridge, a Realtor with Element Real Estate at RE/MAX North Professionals in Colchester. “He was always incredibly forthcoming with information. His door was always open for me. He really had a lot of integrity, which is so important to me.”
Bradley’s days “go by in a blink,” he says, sometimes requiring travel around the state to remote locations. “Sometimes I’ll find we’re not the best person for small outlying places, because a local person might be best. But for a large industrial or retail or large property, for example a grocery-anchored shopping center, we will travel, because we have a broader reach. I try to listen to what people are looking for and decide if it’s in their best interest for us to serve the listing or someone else.”
He has been one of the most active brokers filling space in Burlington’s South End, he says. “We’ve become very good at the sale and repositioning of industrial properties. I’m a pretty good proponent of what I’d call adaptive reuse and repositioning.” Adaptive reuse, he explains, is taking a facility and repositioning it in a way that makes it not only a rebirth, but also an opportunity for jobs to locate and stay in Vermont.
Examples are properties built in the mid 20th century. “A 34-foot-high warehouse is becoming more normal because of changes in construction possibilities and engineering. But we are left with these 14-foot ceilings, vestiges of different growth — horizontal. But you can re-envision this as maybe a really cool office building, add color, natural light, take part to make a courtyard or two, put a new roof on it, new HVAC, make it energy-efficient. And you can do that for a good amount.”
Bradley lives on South Union Street with Judy and their sons, Will, 14, and Ethan, 11. He’s an avid cyclist and has a fascination for art. “I’m 50 years old and at that interesting point where I’m realizing I’m a little more interested in minimalism. One nugget I have: If you see a piece of artwork that you really like, buy it, because if you don’t, and you go back and it’s gone, you will always regret it.” •