Stephan DePascale said he's been building things with his hands since the age of 8 – a passion that has served him well as the owner of a woodworking shop located in East Setauket.
But DePascale, 56, had to give up working in his shop about 1-1/2 years ago, after he started having trouble with his hands; he couldn't life a hammer over his head. Then came the diagnosis: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. A disease for which there is no cure.
DePascale, a 33-year resident of Port Jefferson Station, has since told his crew they would have to be his hands now.
"I said, 'I'll keep the business going with my brain and my heart,'" he said. "The part of this disease I have has affected my arms and my hands. It's not a good thing if you're a cabinet maker."
Elegant Woodworking, a business DePascale started in his garage as a way to make extra money while working for other companies, has been around for 10 years now. It has grown to occupy a 2,500-square-foot shop and 1,000-square-foot warehouse. The company makes and installs cabinets, vanities, furniture, entertainment units, and other components for the home.
DePascale said the majority of his business has come from clients in New York City. Not that that's a bad thing, he said, but the economy – with rising costs for things like fuel and basic materials – is forcing the business to try and attract more local customers. The business has a presence on Facebook and Twitter, too.
DePascale said his main competition isn't from other wood shops; rather, it's from and , which have fostered a do-it-yourself attitude in many potential customers.
"It's gotten extremely competitive due to the way the economy has been," he said. "They say, 'I could buy a kitchen at Home Depot for $7,000. Why should I pay you $27,000?' They don't understand the quality is not the same."
Elegant Woodworking does some contracting with other local businesses, such as a company in Ronkonkoma that does finishing work on the pieces they build.
DePascale said he uses a computer to create his designs and cut them using a large router, a CNC router he acquired seven years ago that cost $150,000. But, he said, it has helped him stay in business as technology changed. He said he has seen other small wood shops close their doors – "the ones that didn't make some changes," he said.
But there will be more changes in the future, especially when it comes to ALS. He recently met Chris Pendergast, who has suffered from ALS for more than 18 years, and who founded . In an email to Patch, Pendergast called DePascale "a noble man" who has the inner fortitude to fight back against ALS.
"When most patients are retreating into their private world of suffering, Steve chose to strike out and go forward," said Pendergast, who said the disease destroys people before killing them. "Ironically, through his efforts to support research, he has found a way to inner peace and happiness. I thank God that Steve has made the choice to fight alongside me."
DePascale said he doesn't know his prognosis, but said the disease is moving slowly so far.
"It's not stopping us," he said. "I'm moving forward."
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