Mary Linda Schwarzbart contacted me last week saying, “Ernie Gross is closing his 50-year-old business. I told him people would enjoy his story.” She gave me his number and from his story, I believe her comment will be an understatement.
Through our delightful conversation, I learned a fascinating story of Ernie who calls himself a country boy from another country, Romania, who immigrated here when he was 13. He met his wife, Pamela, who is from Tennessee, and while both were in the Catskills, she came in seeking a waitressing job from Ernie, the captain of the bus boys. He calls it their own Dirty Dancing story that has lasted 52 years producing two daughters, Naomi who lives in Baltimore and Anna who lives in Knoxville plus two local granddaughters.
So, what happened to the busboy and the waitress? The waitress earned a degree in education, teaching in local schools before retiring, earning her doctorate in psychology and opening her own office to serve patients in Clinton.
Busboy Ernie earned a degree in industrial design and worked at the old Miller’s department store in downtown Knoxville, designing displays. The store had a wood working shop in the basement which pulled Ernie’s interest into the craft of woodworking.
Ernie’s first woodworking project outside of Miller’s started in his father-in-law’s garage, building a new kitchen for his mother-in-law. After successfully completing this first project, he set up a shop for himself in his own basement, and Ernie Gross Designs was born.
Ernie Gross Designs Inc. has created memorable woodworking projects, either in the location once housed in the old McClung Warehouse building until it burned in 2007 or the current massive space in Clinton on his acreage.
Ernie’s custom furniture projects included University of Tennessee locker rooms, the Baker Center, Maryville College and the Radisson among others.
However, the funniest story Ernie told me was one customer who had a custom throne fabricated around his toilet seat. Ernie said, “He was definitely the king when he was on it.”
Ernie’s advice to new entrepreneurs,” Do what you love to do, work hard at it and pleasing your client must be your top goal.”
What will Ernie do in retirement, “I want to create a studio shop to do things for fun and sell or lease the big one that has been the business. “
Ernie Gross’s message is to thank the community in Knoxville for supporting his business over the years. He says, “I could not have done any of this without their support.”
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