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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 2 years ago

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World War II veteran Chuck Palmeri has been a salesman, from shoes to condos to commercial real estate, for nearly 70 years. It's a long lifetime of lessons learned.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Executive Summary
Individual. Charles “Chuck” Palmeri Industry. Commercial real estate Key. Active broker turned 90 in April.

The commercial property listing for the former Kalins Furniture store, on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, checks the usual boxes for large retail spaces.

There's a 70,000-square-foot showroom and a 53,000-square-foot warehouse. It's two levels, with an elevator in the retail area and eight loading docks in the rear. It's listed for $8.75 million.

The most unusual part of the listing is the broker behind it: Charles “Chuck” Palmeri.

Palmeri is 90 years old, and although he says he's getting “too old for this,” he's an active broker, working with the Erick Shumway team at Sarasota-based Re/Max Alliance. He posted $21.9 million in sales volume last year and closed $5.8 million in deals in the first quarter of 2016. Palmeri has four other active listings in the Sarasota area in addition to the Kalins location.

A decorated World War II veteran, with a unit that liberated a concentration camp, Palmeri is as determined as ever to sell the Kalins property. He's known the owner, Ed Kalin, for decades. “He's 94, and he wants to get out of the building,” says Palmeri. “I'm going to work my ass off to sell it.”

A licensed real estate broker since 1957, back in his native Buffalo, N.Y., Palmeri senses the end of his remarkable career is coming soon. “My wife says, 'You can't quit, you have too much going on,'” he says. “But I'm getting tired. When I sell all the rest of my listings, I'm done.”

Re/Max Alliance President Peter Crowley marvels at his older colleague's stamina and dedication, in addition to Palmeri's non-work interests — which include poetry writing. “He's still going strong at 90 years old, out-producing a vast percentage of the brokers in this market,” Crowley says. “That's pretty impressive.”

Crowley recalls the time last year when Palmeri walked into his office and announced he was going to give up his active listings so he could retire. Crowley said OK, but told his assistant to put an asterisk on the retirement paperwork, and hold off on submitting it. “I didn't really think he was ready,” Crowley says. “A week later he came back in and said he just got a $12 million listing, and he wanted to work on it.”

Palmeri, who has three daughters, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, recently sat down with the Business Observer to talk about his life, career and lessons learned in business. Here are excerpts of the conversation:

Greatest generation: Palmeri spent two years with the 42nd Rainbow Division during WWII in France, Germany and Austria. He received a Silver Star, Bronze Star and combat infantry badge for his service. His unit liberated the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, toward the end of the war. Although he was at another battle the day American troops arrived at the camp, Palmeri recalls the horrors he heard about. “The S.S. shot into train cars (mostly with dead bodies) as we were coming, because they knew the war was over and wanted to make sure they got everyone,” Palmeri says.

No one left behind: The Silver Star stems from an attack on Bocholt, Germany, when a fellow American solider was wounded in the line of fire. Then 19, Palmeri, according to the official citation, “left cover, braved the intense enemy fire and carried the wounded man to safety.” He later left the cover of a tank destroyer to grab a second wounded man from the battlefield.

Back home: Palmeri, with two younger sisters in Buffalo, got a job selling shoes at Thom McCann soon after the war. He made 90 cents an hour, plus 2 cents commission for each pair he sold. He held that job part time while he went to Canisius College in Buffalo.

He tried harder: Palmeri's first real job after college was doing something that, at the time, was a novel business concept: renting cars from an airport. He opened and managed the first airport car rental station in Buffalo for Avis, where he grew the inventory from 10 to more than 200 cars. The parking lot was gravel, and the airport, recalls Palmeri, wasn't always prepared for winter hazards. “If your car got stuck when it snowed, and it snowed a lot,” says Palmeri, “then you were stuck.”

Hang tight: Palmeri later worked for a large window and millwork company. In 1953 he led a team that created a new product for homebuilders, Ready Hung doors. Prior to that, he says, carpenters hung doors in homes piece-by-piece, a time-consuming process. Says Palmeri: “That was a real big factor for the building industry.”

Rock it: In 1957, Palmeri took a job with Caldwell Development, a residential and commercial developer. He oversaw a 1,200-acre new home community on a Robert Trent Jones golf course, and he led development of a ski chalet with round lots. He also worked closely with prominent Buffalo-area developer William Caldwell, where Palmeri met other well-known people, such as New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. “I learned about contracts, directing construction and how to buy property,” he says about his time at Caldwell. “I also learned how to do a pro-forma and make a nice presentation. I learned about how important it is for builders to have cash flow. It was extremely helpful for everything else I've done, even today.”

On the beach: Palmeri, having vacationed in the area, moved with his family to Sarasota in 1981. He sold condos on Siesta Key, and in 1982 he and some business partners bought and renovated a 12-unit beachfront motel on Casey key. They turned it into vacation condos, the Gulfside Beach Club, which Palmeri calls one of his most successful business decisions.

Motivating mentor: Another early career stop for Palmeri was with the Siesta Key office of Michael Saunders & Co. The Sarasota-based firm, now one of the largest brokerages in Florida, was less than a decade old when Palmeri worked there. He recalls weekly meetings/pep-talks from Michael Saunders that left everyone in the office “raring to go.” Palmeri remains in contact with Saunders, and isn't surprised by her sustained success. “She doesn't put up with any nonsense from anyone,” Palmeri says.

Job well done: Palmeri began to focus on commercial real estate in the 1990s. He liked the complex process behind connecting buyers with sellers, which he says was more dynamic than condos on the beach. Says Palmeri: “You learn something new every deal you make in commercial real estate.” And he especially loves the times after a deal, when a client calls and says he has another listing or just to say thanks. “That makes you feel good,” Palmeri says, “when you get happy people calling.”

For sale
Charles “Chuck” Palmeri, a 90-year-old commercial real estate broker with Sarasota-based Re/Max Alliance, has five active property listings. The list includes:

The Former Kalins Furniture store on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Building has a 70,000-square-foot showroom and a 53,000-square-foot warehouse. It's two levels, with an elevator in the retail area and eight loading docks in the rear. Listed for $8.75 million.

The Myakka River Oyster Bar, a waterfront restaurant on two acres south of Venice. Seats at least 200 people, according to the listing, with wide water views of the Myakka River and boat dockage for dining guests. Listed for $2.49 million.

A 1,200-square-foot restaurant building on a corner lot on East Venice Avenue. Formerly a Vietnamese cafe, the kitchen has a working commercial gas range, hood, grill and coolers, according to the listing. Seats 24 people. Listed for $375,000.

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