This November, a month in which we traditionally honor veterans, we shine the spotlight on a handful of veteran-owned businesses making waves in Centre County.
Willie’s Wood Shed
Nostalgic big-band music streams out of Bill Pantle’s garage – a fully equipped woodshop where “Willie” creates his custom wooden wares, many of which are familiar to Happy Valley residents fond of going out to eat and drink.
Pantle has created clocks fashioned from the heads of old barrels for Big Spring Spirits and Timberland Federal Credit Union. He’s also created flight servers for Robin Hood Brewing Company, Happy Valley Brewing Company, and Axemann Brewery.
“The whole key is networking,” Pantle says. “You’re meeting people. You get out, and you get involved, and you generate business. You can see opportunities, and it works.”
Pantle, 84, says woodworking clears his mind and relaxes him and is a small, “hobby business” that keeps the skills he learned in high school sharp.
“I have a table upstairs I made for my mother,” Pantle says. “I always took a shop class. Study halls were boring.”
Pantle has earned a right to some R&R. He grew up in Philadelphia, graduated from Penn State, and then enlisted. After a 30-year, storied career in the military, with service in Vietnam and elsewhere, Pantle retired from the Air Force as a colonel.
Soon after, Pantle did research and development consulting work, which led him back to Penn State. On regular trips to campus from his former residence in upstate New York, Pantle happened to reconnect with an old fraternity brother who had also retired from the Air Force.
“We would drink beers and tell lies in the evening, and it was good to hang out with him,” says Pantle. “I stayed with Penn State for 10 years, and it was a great experience. I think I really helped open some doors with the Air Force for them.”
Pantle says he “got really serious” with Willie’s Wood Shed about two years ago after ordering some items from a woodworking catalog and determining he could make the stuff they were selling better himself. Though his involvement in the craft is more serious now, Pantle never abandoned his hobby; he has dozens of stories of when woodworking came in handy over the years, such as the time a fellow serviceman “taught” him to sail.
“I’d never sailed before,” Pantle recalls, “so we went out on the boat. [My friend] told me, ‘Sail over there, by the pier.’ He hops out, says, ‘I’m going to go pick up my wife. Have fun.’ So that’s how I learned to sail. Then I built a sailboat.”
Before launching his business, Pantle says he did woodworking “as necessary.” For him, the challenge of doing things on the fly is fun and rewarding.
“The accomplishment of going from a pile of wood that you gotta figure this out, or you’re going to have an expensive bonfire – actually putting that on a trailer and taking it out and putting it in the water and raising the sail – OK, what’s next?”
Pantle is a member of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County, the Bellefonte Chamber of Commerce, and is active at the Boal Mansion and Museum. He recently made and donated a custom flag case to protect and preserve an antique flag that was discovered at the mansion.
“We’re always looking for more folks [to create products for],” Pantle says. “I’m looking at wineries and breweries to sell coasters with the name of the brewery or the winery.”
Pantle says he would also like to team-up with local wedding planners to create custom “shot skis” for the bride and groom and bridal parties.
Pantle donates a portion of what he makes from his business to the Centre County Veterans Assistance Fund, and asks people to remember that as veterans, “We laid it on the line, we put our time in, and some of us aren’t in as good health as others.”
To contact Willie’s Wood Shed, call (814) 203-3618.
NextHome Price Point Realty
Thomas Price, owner and managing broker of NextHome Price Point Realty of Lemont, remembers the hours that ticked slowly by as he and fellow service members waited to learn if they’d be sent overseas during Operation Desert Storm.
“We were going to be the next wave to go over there,” Price says. “We were sitting in the gym, I’ll never forget it, for three days. No news. No radios, no newspapers, no nothing. At that point, when you’re getting ready to get shipped out like that, you had no information, we were just supposed to go and know our orders.”
Price joined the Army military police at age 17, and after post closures led to a reduction in the military, he took an early out and served as a fire and EMS first-responder for several years in Texas. He says his experience in the Army and as a member of emergency services has helped him find success in the real estate world.
“[It’s helped with] maintaining patience and calm when buyers and sellers aren’t agreeing – some people can get heated,” Price says. “It’s a lot of money in real estate, so I can absolutely understand it. Obviously, maintaining a clear head in any kind of situation helps.”
Price took real estate classes and passed the test to become licensed, and says he was “thrown into the mix.” A large percentage of agents don’t continue in the profession long-term, he says, “Because there’s a lot involved in real estate that most people don’t know … and they give up before they have a chance.”
After struggling for a couple of years and failing to find the guidance he was looking for from his employer, Price says he changed his strategy and decided to do more research and teach himself. His wife Dana encouraged him to get his broker’s license, and though it typically takes a person three to five years to become licensed, Price says, “I got all my classes done in five months; I really crushed into it.”
Price made a friend in his classes who provided him information about the NextHome franchise. He was intrigued by the company’s modern approach to real estate, the way they are “streamlining the home-buying process,” and how they took a sincere interest in him as a new broker.
Price and his wife flew out to California to meet with the NextHome CEO and other potential franchisees and attended orientation. Price says his mind was made up when he returned to his job after being away and, “Nobody knew I was gone, where I was working then.”
Price and his wife launched their business in September 2017. He says his goal is to train agents to know the property-buying process thoroughly to address any nervousness or fear early on, “So we can be more successful moving on.”
Price says he likes the close-knit attitude of NextHome and the technology they incorporate into the process. Each house they sell gets its own sign, complete with “Luke,” the recognizable orange bulldog mascot, telling potential buyers the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and garage size. When someone texts the number on the sign, they receive information on the house, and the agent receives the buyer’s information too, to follow up and answer any questions they may have.
NextHome also does its own in-house photography and films house tours.
“People get sold enough every day,” Price says. “They don’t need sold. A house is someone’s dream. I don’t have to sell them a house. I just have to help them find the right one.”
Price reminds customers, “Veterans volunteered to stand up for everybody else in this country, no matter who they are, no matter what their beliefs are; we volunteered to make sure that our country stayed safe and everybody has the opportunity to take advantage of what our county has to offer. Supporting a veteran-owned business – there’s a thank you there.”
Parra Design & Build
Josh and Lizzie Parra approach their interior and residential design business with a “military attitude” they say is evident in most other veteran-owned businesses they encounter.
“Whenever we meet another veteran business owner, we always try to collaborate or offer a referral to them,” Josh Parra says. “I think it’s very important, because these men and women sacrificed years of their lives to protect this country and the freedom we have to live the life we do.”
Josh Parra, a native of Syracuse, New York, joined the Marine Corps when he was 18.
“I needed direction in my life,” says Parra. “I grew up without a dad and didn’t really have that discipline. I grew up in kind of a rough neighborhood in Syracuse, and made a decision to join the Marine Corps.”
In his four years as a Marine, Parra traveled to such diverse locals as Puerto Rico, Bosnia, Haiti, Norway, and Japan.
“It helped open my eyes to the world,” Parra says, noting that he’d seen and experienced so much by the time he was only 22. “[The military] teaches you to be leaders and have integrity and try to do the best you can in all you do. I think one of the big things the military taught me is to be independent.”
Josh met his wife, Lizzie, while bartending at Champ’s in State College and attending school after the military. The two embraced their independent spirit and found success in Boston in operating their own businesses in both the real estate and pet industries.
“We said we’d never move back [to State College],” Josh says, “and then we had our son [Ignacio], and Lizzie’s whole family is here. [Iggy] would really connect with his cousin when we came to visit, and we thought it was important for him to grow up around family.”
With their initial renovation project in State College, Josh says he and Lizzie “brought in all the elements of design we were used to in the city, and when people came through the property, that piqued their interest, and people started reaching out to us about designing and upgrading their homes.”
The Parras say they’ve been “busier and busier” since quarantine led people to stay at home and notice things about their houses that they would like to remodel. Many more people are also telecommuting full-time now, Josh says, and they’re eager to “make things more comfortable for working from home.”
The Parras document many of their projects on social media and have a loyal following of people they inspire with their dazzling before-and-after photos.
“You can expect a certain caliber of service, typically, from [a veteran-owned business],” says Lizzie Parra. “Usually, when we’re working with somebody we know was in the service, we know they’ll hold themselves to a certain standard because they came from that background. The same qualities Josh brings to the business, of never settling for less than what he feels is the absolute best, and always expecting everything to be 110 – we expect that when we work with other veterans.”
Learn more at: parradesignbuild.com.
Teresa Mull is a freelance writer in Philipsburg.