There are not many people that can say that they’ve moved a 7,000-pound Buddha from New York to California. In fact there is probably only one — Paul Benkert and his Kingston-based company, Allways Moving.
“Six years ago we had a client call up and let us know they were moving from Gardiner, and needed to have their concrete Buddha sculpture moved to their new home in California,” explains Benkert, a born and bred Kingston lad who started his company from a relative’s basement and is now about to celebrate his 30th year in business. “It wasn’t easy,” he admits. “There were cranes involved and all kinds of challenging maneuvers but we got it done.”
Another one of Benkert’s more memorable moving stories was when his company was called late on a Sunday afternoon and asked if they could drive to the 1994 Woodstock Concert and collect all of the tapes and sound boards and music equipment from the concert back to the Bearsville Studio. “They had done all of the live recordings from the concert and wanted to make sure that nothing happened to those tapes,” recalls Benkert, a Grateful Dead fan himself, with a poster of Jerry Garcia hanging in his office between sports banners and photos of his wife and three children to prove it. “I don’t think many people would think of me as a Dead fan but I was for about 10 years back in the day,” he says with a laugh.
“We got in there and loaded up the music equipment and recordings and got them safely and securely back to the Bearsville Studios late Sunday night after the concert concluded,” he says. “That was an interesting experience.”
While Benkert grew up in Kingston and graduated from Kingston High School, his path towards the moving business was not a linear one. “I had a lot of different jobs as a young man but one summer a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to work with him at a moving company in Boston.”
It seemed like a good opportunity at the time and a chance to experience a new place, so Benkert said yes and spent the next two years living in Boston, gaining an affection for the Red Sox and learning the ins and outs of the moving business.
“I liked the business and thought that there was a real need for one in Ulster County so I moved back home and started working from a family member’s basement, putting ads in the yellow pages and it took off after a couple of years.”
Benkert said it was a real boon to have grown up in the area. “There’s no doubt about it that knowing so many people in Ulster County has helped me a great deal,” he said, noting that he was an active board member on the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce as well as a board member of the New York State Movers Association.
From a basement office and a borrowed van, Allways Moving has grown into a company that has no fewer than seven to eight clients’ having their belongings transported on a daily basis. Besides the fleet of straight-trucks and the three-story historic red brick building at 85 Grand St. in downtown Kingston where the company is located, there’s an additional 90,000 square feet of storage space in a converted old industrial warehouse that includes 470 five-by-five units. “Storage and moving go hand in hand,” he says. “One in every 10 people are going to need storage at some point.”
To this end, Benkert has between 15 and 20 employees, most of them full-time employees that pack, drive, transport and just keep everyone moving to where they need to go. “I’ve had one employee that’s been with us for 22 years,” he says, but notes that this business is not for the weary. “Of course, we use hand trucks and dollies, but if a couch has to be moved upstairs then we have to carry it up the stairs. So, there’s no getting away from the physical demands of the job. It’s labor-intensive.”
Sixty-five percent of moving takes place from May to September with the majority of them being residential moves within Ulster County. There are pianos that have to be moved and safes and sculptures and fountains. But there are also office building moves, libraries and sadly natural disasters like fire, oil-spills, water damage from frozen pipes.
“Libraries and large office building moves are often the most challenging because you have to know your Dewey decimal system and make sure all of those books get back on the right shelf and make sure that every piece of office equipment is moved to the correct room.”
Although the growth was necessary to support the demands of moving and storage for his clients, Benkert says he is in a good place now. “I don’t want to get any bigger. I’m very happy with where we’re at,” he says giving examples of a typical day in July for Allways Moving. “Today we had to deliver a piece of equipment to a dentist office in Saugerties first thing in the morning. We have two trucks in Buffalo and the rest are all out doing different jobs.”
Part of the moving business includes getting licenses to move from state to state as well as within New York State. “In general, we move people within 500 miles,” he says, which takes them up and down the East Coast and to Ohio, with exceptions. They also do all of the packing if a client asks; Benkert has a warehouse full of cardboard boxes of every size, pallets of packing tape and bubble wrap. “We go through about 300,000 boxes a year,” he notes as he winds through the catacombs of temperature-controlled storage units.
Besides payroll and materials and truck maintenance and fuel costs, one of Allways Moving’s largest expenses is insurance. “That’s 20 percent of what we bring in,” he says noting that there’s “liability insurance, workmen’s compensation insurance, on top of their vehicle and commercial insurance.
With all of that said, Benkert said that he feels like a lucky man. “I’ve been able to own my own business, help support my family, be a part of my community and help friends and family and all kinds of people get to point A to point B.”