The captain of wrinkle tin factory:
Rick Smith, entrepreneur
Story & Photos by Nancy J. Parisi
In Buffalo’s Old First Ward and Allentown districts a dashing figure may often be seen in a distinctive cowboy hat/boots/sports jacket combo, a bushy moustache, and a voice spreading good humor in a man’s-man arc. This is Rick Smith, captain of industry, arts patron, musician, and tireless promoter of all things Buffalo River.
Smith is a third-generation president of what he refers to as “the wrinkle tin factory,” Rigidized Metals Corporation on Ohio Street in the Ward, a company founded by Rick’s grandfather, Rick “Stainless” Smith, in 1938. The first of the three Rick Smiths developed a way to emboss all sorts of patterns into sheets of metal, a way to not only gussy it up but to make this raw industrial material stronger. This Rick Smith has been on the job since taking over for his father in 2000.
Rigidized Metal’s website (www.rigidized.com) features an archive of the plethora of possible patterns and colors available in sheets, as well as an archive of some applications for home and factory that completely spark the imagination. Any kitchen could have a diner quality with a backsplash of a harlequin diamond pattern in stainless steel. The company sells to designers, engineers, and architects and has moved toward selling directly to consumers and creating more finished products incorporating the metals they’ve artfully imprinted.
“We’ve got three market segmentsarchitectural, industrial, and transportationwith transportation being anything from helicopter flooring to truck bodies or truck beds, utility carts, and transit applications in New York City,” he explains. Pointing to metal examples leaning here and there in his sunny, ground-floor office, he adds “This could be used for flooring, seat backs, or wainscoting.”
Smith also mentions that the company has also purchased the intellectual property to fabricate box warmers, from a company in Buffalo. When asked what exactly a box warmer’s purpose is, he states “They’re used by Meals on Wheels to keep meals warm.” Smith’s late mother volunteered for the organization and this has inspired an ongoing relationship with them.
Currently, Rigidized employs forty-five people and may hire another handful after a huge, 20,000-square-foot expansion off their current factory’s north end.
Smith has another major business pursuit. With partner Kevin Townsell, he has purchased four grain elevators on the Buffalo River nearby to store corn kernels as a first step to produce ethanol. RiverWright Energy, an $80 million project, would employ up to sixty-five people and produce up to 110 million gallons of ethanol on eighteen acres of land.
Other riverside endeavors of Smith’s include Boom Days, a celebration of “the official start of spring” when the ice boom is removed, and the summertime Buffalo River Fest with vessels of all sorts floating downriver, launched from either the foot of Smith or Clinton Streets and ending at an Ohio Street parkrenamed Buffalo River Fest Park.
Smith is also working on restoring the riverside wooden boardwalk so more people may become familiar with this water access and its incredible views.
A dad for nearly a year, Smith’s office is decorated with photos of his daughter Norah, as well as a mural by painter friend Peter Fowler. Smith notes that he goes “home every day for lunch, when (he) can, just to catch a glimpse” of Norah in action. When asked if he counts being a dad among his jobs, he says that fatherhood is “a life thing” and his pleasure in the role is obvious.
Nancy J. Parisi has been a journalist and photojournalist in Buffalo for two decades. She has lived in the city’s Old First Ward for fifteen years.
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