GLOVERSVILLE – When Darrin Romeyn looks at Gloversville he sees a city somewhat analogous to his own career.
“People always say, turn a negative into a positive and things happen for a reason and I never really was a full believer in that,” Romeyn said.
Romeyn said he changed his mind when a family tragedy led him to rearrange his life and his career, becoming a small business in downtown Gloversville and a civic leader dedicated to helping to turn the city around.
He grew up in Gloversville, the youngest of eight children. He said he sees great potential for the role of design in helping to shape a more prosperous city.
“In a way, this community – I don’t want to say it’s at rock bottom because everything could get worse – but economically, it’s really, really choking. I think there’s good potential for economic growth through housing,” he said.
As a civil engineer, it’s Romeyn’s role to make certain construction projects meet the specifications of city and state building codes and safety regulations. Since starting his own business in 2012, Romeyn has become increasingly involved in the community, joining the Gloversville Business Improvement District and serving on the board of the Gloversville Housing & Neighborhood Improvement Corp. He said he believes the Gloversville Housing & Neighborhood Improvement Corp. can play a positive role in helping to design how Gloversville develops into the future, acting as an agency that can acquire foreclosed properties in the city and convert them into green spaces, as well as helping to steer developers toward state grant funding for the construction of new housing.
“The paradigm shift is thinking inward, if you create affordable housing for people – and opportunity is out there, through the state grants and funding – if we can create this paradigm shift where people have affordable housing stock,” he said. “By acquiring these properties we can control and persuade how they are developed, so they won’t become a spot for a huge asphalt parking lot lets say or a place for dumpsters, unwanted use in an area that’s residential. We’re acquiring these properties and maintaining them in the hopes that in the future we can create a new vibrant community with new housing.”
Although he sees great potential in helping to design Gloversville’s future, design had little to do with how Romeyn decided to return to Gloversville.
Romeyn started his career as a civil engineer, after graduating from Union College in 2001, working for large civil engineering firms in Albany.
“I never envisioned myself coming back to Gloversville and doing this type of work. It was my dream to start my own business one day, but it was in my subconscious and never in the forefront of my mind because I had to take care of my parents at the time.”
On Jan. 1, 2011 Romeyn’s stepmother, Mary Ann Watrobski Romeyn, died after suffering injuries from an accident. Four months later, Romeyn’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer and he died four months after that.
Romeyn said the abrupt death of his parents thrust him into the role of operating his stepmother’s restaurant, the former Mary Ann’s Restaurant, 661 Route 29, Broadalbin. He said he wanted to keep the memory of his stepmother alive, while demonstrating the restaurant was still a viable business in the hope that he could sell it. He said he had to quit his career in Albany in order to prioritize handling the affairs of his parents’ estate.
“I was working as a project manager on huge million dollar projects, with the [state] Thruway Authority, many with multiple subconsultants and I really couldn’t handle that burden and keep the restaurant going,” he said.
While he was trying to run his stepmother’s restaurant, he also created his own small design firm DM Romeyn Civil Engineering.
Operating both businesses simultaneously was difficult.
“I had my [engineering firm] employees put together the weekly menus and they were working hybrid between [my civil engineering firm] and the restaurant and it was driving them crazy and it was driving me crazy,” he said.
Romeyn said he ultimately decided to stop operating the restaurant and leased it to another restaurant called Finnigan’s for two years. Now the business is for sale for $250,000, which he says is what he and his parents’ estate need to break even.
Despite the difficulties with the restaurant, Romeyn says the tragedy of his parents death helped him start a new life for himself in his hometown.
“I would never have started my own business. I think I would have stayed with a comfortable salary and comfortable benefit package, I don’t think I ever would have gone out on my own,” he said.
Romeyn said when he started DM Romeyn Civil Engineering he was able to use his experiences from having worked in construction for years before going to college to give him an edge in helping to establish a client base.
“Having a construction background kind of gave me a 3D perspective of actually knowing what the contractor deals with in the field and knowing what the homeowner wants,” he said.
Romeyn said there weren’t many small young design firms in the local region when he started, which helped his company quickly capture market share. DM Romeyn Civil Engineering started small, less than 36 projects in 2012, but gradually increased, doing about 72 projects in 2013 and 2014 and then 109 projects in 2015.
He said the success of his business has been a dream come true.
“When I worked construction, I always wanted to start my own business. So, looking back over the past four years, at the sadness that happened to my family, I really think all of this just came into play for a purpose,” he said. “Now that I’m local, I’m just focused on trying to have a successful business that could last for years to come.”
Romeyn credited the support of his wife Amy whose career as a special education teacher at the Enlarged Gloversville School District helped him survive while he was growing his business.
“Without her I never would have been able to make it through all this,” he said.
In January, DM Romeyn Civil Engineering Design received the Thomas B. Constantino Entrepreneurial Award from the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce. Romeyn was nominated for the award by David Karpinski. Karpinski is a vice president of marketing at Taylor Made and he’s the executive director of the Parkhurst Field Foundation. Karpinski said Romeyn helped the Parkhurst Field Foundation by donating concept drawings the foundation is using in their efforts to rebuild the park.
“I was proud to nominate him. Darrin is a local entrepreneurs who essentially committed to downtown Gloversville, which I think is key. He rehabed a storefront and made it look absolutely beautiful,” he said. “He’s a guy who’s committed to doing the right things within the community to make it a better place.”