Islander works to carve out a business by making beach chairs
To Frank Maceo, there are two kinds of beach chairs.
There’s the kind that you can get at a big-box store — $20 metal-and-nylon contraptions you’re just as likely to leave behind on the beach as you are to take back and toss in your garage.
Then there’s the kind that you can only seem to find in Galveston. The kind vendors lay out every morning in the summer and charge beach tourists to sit in.
That’s the kind of beach chair Maceo grew up with as a child living on the island, he said.
In high school, Maceo would be the one making a buck by setting the chairs up and breaking them down on the beach. After he got out of the Marines and returned to the island, he started his own vending company and claimed a patch of beach.
Now, Maceo no longer wants to be the middleman and is taking his chairs to the people. Earlier this year, Maceo opened the East End Chair Co. in a small shop on Harborside Drive, across from the University of Texas Medical Branch’s emergency room. There, with a small team of helpers, he puts together custom-made beach chairs by hand, a couple dozen at a time.
“It’s quintessential Galveston,” he said, half yelling over an industrial fan that’s the only means of keeping Maceo’s shop cool. “These Adirondack chairs, these plastic chairs that you see everybody selling, they don’t have anything to do with Galveston. These chairs have been on the beach for 60, 70 years.”
The wooden-and-mesh steamer chairs fold out, allowing for a leisurely time on the beach. It’s the style of chair that was featured on the Titanic, Maceo said. They’re made of white oak, which is best for water-proofing, he said. He selected the vinyl mesh material to stand up to the elements, he said.
“Ain’t nothing sexier than this chair, it’s got good lines, good angles,” he said.
Maceo learned to fix up old beach chairs after coming into possession of dozens of them after Hurricane Ike flooded the city in 2008. Some local warehouses where beach vendors stored their equipment were flooded, and Maceo swooped in to buy and rehabilitate the chairs for his own service, he said.
They were free, he said. It was an obvious opportunity.
In fixing up those chairs, Maceo learned that only three companies supplied the parts needed to repair them, he said. Instead of buying wholesale, he bought some wood-working equipment and started to make the pieces himself, he said.
Eventually, he had enough pieces to make a whole chair.
“I had a beer one night in my garage over on Ball Street,” he said. “I went over there, put a whole chair together, and boom, that was it.”
He and a friend put together 100 chairs and they sold out quickly, he said. There was an obvious demand for them, he thought at the time.
That was in 2011, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that Maceo opened the East End Chair Co. He came back to the business idea after a brief attempt at being an insurance agent and after years working on a tugboat in the Galveston Ship Channel. Maceo also served two years on the Galveston City Council as the representative for District 3, which includes the city’s port, downtown, the University of Texas Medical Branch and the island’s historic East End. Serving on the city council gave him the confidence to start his own business, he said.
“I’m at a hell of a pivot point in my life getting off council,” Maceo said. “I can go a lot of different ways. With the network that I made during council, I’ve got more opportunities than I really know what to do with right now.”
Maceo’s family has a long business history on the island. Since arriving in the early 1900s, they’ve owned shrimp boats, restaurants and a cabinet-making business, among other ventures.
Maceo doesn’t know how long his business will last, he said. There’s still very much a transitory nature to it. He’ll make 50 at a time, sell them, and then start another 50. He’s got a positive feeling about the project though and a good pitch, he said.
“They’re out there on the market, but nobody in Texas is making them,” he said. “As long as I’m making chairs, I’m selling chairs.”