Below is an Article that was Published in The Shopper. Enjoy!
by Rob Lauer – The Shopper
Frank Wozniak, Jr., of Batchelder & Collins could be called a “brick advocate.” “In recent years, bricks aren’t being used as much in building as they once were,” he admits. “And that’s a shame, because there are so many advantages to using brick as opposed to wood or siding. Siding on a new home can get mildewed within a year or two and require power washing. Wood peels after a time and needs to be repainted. But bricks are low maintenance: they always look good – and they also withstand damage.
“Recently, with the severe weather in other parts of the country, the siding on newer houses is being damaged by high winds – and hail can punch holes in siding. When all is said and done, bricks last. Just look at our building here.”
The building to which Frank refers houses Batchelder & Collins, the brick and masonry business that he runs as a fifth generation family member. Located on Granby Street in Norfolk, the spacious building – which boasts a large showroom, sales offices, and a warehouse – is made of red bricks that look as attractive and sturdy as they did when the building was erected over a century ago.
“We’ve been in this building since 1903,” Frank says, adding that Batchelder & Collins also has locations in Suffolk and Williamsburg, and that his family-owned business actually predates the Granby Street building by three and a half decades.
“My great-great-grandfather, William Henry Collins, served as a Union captain during the Civil War,” Frank explains. “During the war, he passed through this area of Virginia. Later, during Reconstruction, he moved to Norfolk and started the business with a local business man – B. M. Batchelder. When the business first started out, it was located in downtown Norfolk on Water Street, and we sold all sorts of building materials, including lumber. In those early years we even manufactured our own bricks at a facility we had in Suffolk.”
Batchelder did not stay involved in the business very long, so ownership of the company passed on to Collins’ two daughters. One of those daughters – Elizabeth – was the first female physician in the Hampton Roads area and so she placed the running of the company in the hands of her husband. Eventually, she passed the business on to her son, William C. Whitehead.
“William was my grandfather,” Frank explains. “After graduating from Virginia Tech, he was offered a job in New Jersey, but his mother asked him to help run the family business instead. I grew up hearing stories of how he kept the company going during the Great Depression – of how at times he had no money in the bank but somehow still managed to keep the lights on.”
Frank’s mother and father – Helen and Frank Wozniak – took over the business in 1983. Frank himself was active in the life of the company from an early age. “Starting at age 14 when I was in high school, and later while in college, I worked here over the summers,” Frank recalls. “I did everything from bagging sand to driving fork lifts.”
Frank would later graduate from Virginia Tech with a degree in chemical engineering, and by the age of 21 he decided that he wanted to go into the family business. Frank’s parents retired in 2015, and while his mother is still the majority owner of Batchelder & Collins, Frank now serves as its president.
Though the red brick walls of the company’s Granby Street location look as they did over a century ago, the building’s interior has undergone continuous changes – the most recent being the addition of a new showroom. Customers entering through the front doors step into an expansive space composed of aggregate floors, glistening steel and glass staircases, high ceilings, and exposed brick walls. In this space and in an outdoor courtyard area, they can view samples of the vast variety of brick, stone, and other masonry materials that Batchelder & Collins offers customers.
“When you say ‘brick,’ people think ‘red,'” Frank says. “People don’t realize how many types of bricks there are until they walk into our showroom. Brick manufacturers are doing all sorts of things these days.”
While bricks still account for the majority of sales at Batchelder & Collins, the company has also expanded to natural and manufactured veneer stone, concrete, brick and natural stone hardscapes, and practically any other material needed for masonry work.
“Materials for outdoor living spaces have really taken off in recent years,” says Frank. “People are now doing very elaborate things. It’s no longer just about having a traditional grilling area. Now people are building complete kitchens outdoors. They’re installing outdoor ovens and refrigerators, along with fireplaces and fire pits to sit around. Some of the designs I’ve seen truly amaze me.”
“Veneer stone has also become big lately,” Frank continues. “People like the craftsman look for houses – which is wood with either stone or brick elements. Some people want a mix of wood, stone, and brick.”
How does shopping at Batchelder & Collins compare to shopping at large national home improvement chains?
“For one thing, our staff is very well-versed – they’re experts,” Frank replies. “Some of them have worked here for 15 to 20 years. There is no comparison between our folks and what you find at big national chains where the staff is constantly turning over. We take our time and give a lot of attention to each and every one of our customers. The only way that we’ve been able to keep our business going for 148 years is by taking care of customers’ needs.”
Frank invites anyone who is building a new house or considering making home improvements to visit Batchelder & Collins. “Come in and let us help you pick out the brick or stone that’s right for you,” he says. “If you’re not exactly sure how to proceed with a home improvement, we can help you come up with a great design. If it’s a project you’re not comfortable doing yourself, we can help you find trusted, experienced builders who can make your dream a reality.”