Everything for windows and walls
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
Thirty years ago, Judy and Bill Galdi opened The Wall Doctor, their Williston Road business in South Burlington that carries window treatments and blinds, wallpaper, and a long list of accompanying products.
To many people’s surprise, says Bill Galdi, “Judy and I still like working together after 30 years.” In their shop, The Wall Doctor on Williston Road in South Burlington, the Galdis have plied their trade through the rise, decline, and resurgence of the popularity of wallpaper.
“We’re the largest wallpaper business in the state of Vermont,” Bill says, but adds that window treatments comprise 70 percent of The Wall Doctor’s sales. That includes curtains, valances, cornices, and blinds — the company is a Hunter Douglas showcase dealership, but also carries multiple other brands “so we can compete with home centers as well as any price point people want to be at,” he adds.
In addition to wallpaper and window treatments, The Wall Doctor carries paint, pillows, hardware, and sundry items, and, says Judy, “tons of peel-and-stick for people who come in and want to do their kids’ rooms or who live in dorm rooms or apartments and can’t put up wallpaper.” The colorful shop is filled with materials to spark the imagination.
“When Home Depot came in,” says Judy, “people asked us, ‘Are you going to go out?’ But people like to come in and talk about things from soup to nuts. We make a lot of friends through the store.
“Our biggest competition is probably the Internet. People spend an hour looking at books, then they come back and say, ‘We like you and want to buy from you.’”
Bill and Judy met in 1976 when they were both in college: Bill, a Ramsey, New Jersey, native, at St. Michael’s, and Judy, a Beverly, Massachusetts, girl, at Trinity. Both were business majors.
“I used to work at one of the local watering holes, The Last Chance, which is now the Flynn Space,” says Judy. “He used to come in there and visit.” They were married in 1980.
After graduation, Bill took a job with Burroughs Office Equipment, where he worked for about nine years. He moved to Business Systems of Vermont around 1985, just as Burroughs, he says, “was going in a different direction than I wanted to go.” He stayed about three years.
Judy‘s first job out of college was with the Multiple Sclerosis Society as a fund-raiser. After a year, she went to work for Hackett Valine & MacDonald. When their first child, Peter, was born in 1981, she decided to stay home with him. Joey was born in 1983, and Jillian came along in 1986, the year they opened the store.
“I had always had an interest in having our own business,” says Bill. “This opportunity came along and we decided to do it.”
The “opportunity” came in the form of a friend of his from New Jersey who knew the owner of a wallpaper factory. The owner agreed to stock a store with wallpaper on consignment — not typical for this type of business, says Bill. “We surrounded that with special-order wallpaper books, window treatments, and paint.”
Before she met Bill, Judy had planned to graduate from business school and return to Boston to find work, “but we got married and had children right away,” she says. “We thought this [The Wall Doctor] would be something we could do and bring our kids with us.” Bill kept his job for a time and worked part-time in the store.
The 2,000-square-foot shop at 4050 Williston Road was located across the street for five years, until space requirements demanded a move. “We each have our own sandbox,” says Bill, describing how they divide the work. He handles the duties on “the window side of things” — blinds and shades, measuring, quoting, installing — in addition to the accounting and website development. Judy handles the wallpaper and drapery products.
“I’m mostly in the store and Billy is mostly gone all day,” she says. There are three part-timers: seamstresses Nancy Lefebvre and Kathy Duncan, who can watch the store when the Galdis need to get away together, and Joy Longe, a paperhanger, who, Judy says, “helps out in a pinch.”
At first, they decided to be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. “We hoped to get a lot of business,” says Judy, admitting that they were a bit naive. “Now we’re open from 9 to 6, which gives people a bit of time after work to pick something up.”
Business has been good, especially the last five years. The 2008 downturn was not a great time, but the Galdis say that not having a huge staff or overhead has equipped them to handle the ups and downs.
“And we’re in Vermont!” exclaims Judy. “People like the attention.”
“They’re amazing people with an amazing customer focus,” says Lisa Angwin, a customer in South Burlington. “They started working with all our curtains and cushions in our last house, probably 10 years ago. It’s just like doing business with your family: They always greet you with a smile, and they really care.
“We just moved into a new house, and they came out, measured everything, and have come out probably five times to install. I truly adore them, and when you look at doing business, I can tell you, you want to refer people to them. There’s a high level of confidence.”
The wallpaper business landscape has changed over the years with the advent of the Internet, says Bill. “People do their homework and are more educated when they come in.”
“I think things like this DIY network,” Judy pipes up, “people come in and say they saw someone on this fixer-upper house who put wallpaper on the back of a bookcase, for example, or they saw something on Houzz, and they come in and say, ‘Oh, my God! I had no idea you had this kind of stuff in this little store.’”
“They’re incredible,” says Barb Barford, a longtime customer, neighbor, and friend of the Galdis. Her husband, Mike, and Bill Galdi were students at St. Mike’s together.
“I don’t consider myself a decorator at all, and yet our house looks great, and it’s because of the help they’ve given us. We have bought paint, wallpaper, curtains, everything they sell, I think. I’m sitting in our family room, which we painted three times because we didn’t like the color. Bill would mix a color for us, and we’d say, ‘Well, I don’t like this chip.’ Judy’s come and helped pick out curtains for our family. And those things are not just for us,” she adds.
A big challenge has been trying to manage work and family duties when both partners are involved in the business. “If you have a growing family, you’re trying to juggle who’s going to go to the hockey game, to the store — somebody’s gotta be working,” says Judy.
“Our three kids were all involved very heavily in sports. Every day was gymnastics, hockey game, whatever, so you try to be with three kids and still run a store. One year, Bill was coaching Little League and they won, and Bill had to go out to North Dakota with the team.”
All the kids have flown the nest and live in the Boston area. “We don’t think they’re coming back to take care of the business,” Judy says. “Bill just turned 60 this year, but we don’t have any plans to retire at 65 like the old days. The store is doing well and we’re going to stick with it.”
When they have a chance, the Galdis golf, together or with friends, and have worked on various benefit golf tournaments over the years. They ski, although not much this winter. Now and then they take the grandchildren to visit Bill’s mom in Florida.
“My wife does more than I do for the community,” Bill says. “She’s involved with the Travis Roy Foundation Wiffle Ball Tournament, makes a meal once a month for the Dismas House, and a turkey dinner for the church once a year.” Judy also volunteers with the Wendy J. Pierson Foundation for Brain Cancer Research, and the Catholic Daughters of Vermont.
“I guess,” says Bill, “the interesting thing is that a husband and wife can make a living in a business that’s not a franchise — one that started and stayed local in this age of Internet and big corporations and other people buying up other companies, and that the small mom-and-pop business can survive.” •