James A. Lipsie Jr. grew up where pickup trucks are a prerequisite and career choices include mining coal, farming or working in the oil and gas industry.
He hopes the safety and supply store he and his wife opened in his Indiana County hometown in April will take a family tradition begun by his grandfather to the next level.
Lipsie, 35, of Plumville, Pa., followed his grandfather, Robert, and father, James, into the oil and gas industry and has worked for Energy Corp. of America for 14 years. He continues to work there while his fledgling business gets off the ground.
Lipsie, known to friends as “J.R.,” long talked about opening a business that would supply the industry’s “crucial needs” for some time. He and his wife, Erin, 33, tapped into their savings and, with the help of some investments from family members, raised the $30,000 to $40,000 needed to transform a former pizza shop into Midstream Safety & Supply. The outlet is along busy Route 85 in the heart of Marcellus shale country.
With safety regulations in shale and other industries becoming more stringent, J.R. Lipsie “saw an opportunity to serve some of that need in this area.”
The closest stores in the region handling similar merchandise are in Indiana and Washington, oil and gas workers said.
“Everything is so safety-oriented,” said Lipsie, a 21-year veteran of the local volunteer fire department.
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, the outer layer of clothing worn by natural gas, oil, refinery and chemical workers and electricians and utility linemen must be fire-resistant.
“Fire-resistant clothing can significantly reduce both the extent and severity of burn injuries to the body,” OSHA points out.
A fire-resistant shirt can cost between $30 and $80 at Midstream Safety & Supply.
In addition to fire-resistant clothing, Midstream carries hard hats, safety gloves, vests, ear protection, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, absorbent pads, valves and fittings, safety lighting and boots.
Lipsie said he knows that not all workdays end at 5 p.m., especially for oil and gas workers, so he offers a service reminiscent of an old country doctor.
After-hours calls to the store transfer to his cellphone.
“People have called in the evening and said they needed something, and he ran down and opened up for them,” his wife said.
“When they need it, they need it,” J.R. Lipsie said.
The couple concede there were some sleepless nights as they weighed taking the plunge into the uncharted waters of running a business. Raising the money needed to open the store was a steep hill to climb.
They are learning as they go, adapting to changes in their lifestyle, said Erin Lipsie, a former stay-at-home mom who is expecting the couple’s third daughter in December.
The other girls, ages 8 and 9, get off their school bus in front of the store and settle in to do an hour’s worth of homework before the family heads home.
Midstream’s advertising budget consists of word of mouth and social media, Lipsie said.
Her husband said sales are going up, but he declined to disclose specific figures.
“It’s not lottery-type money, but it’s going in the right direction,” he said.
Matt Kimmel, 36, of Clymer, one of the owners of Mashan Inc., a communications and electrical contracting firm just down the road in Home, was their first customer. He routinely buys fire-retardant gear at Midstream.
“J.R.’s doing what’s needed,” Kimmel said. “It’s nice to have a local company so close to our office.”
Lipsie hopes to someday transition from his job at Energy Corp. of America and make the store the couple’s primary source of income.
“That’s our goal,” he said. “To move out of the field and into the business.”
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