By Sophie Butcher & Martin Diegelman
Etna opened in 1946, and until recently was one of the last remaining tool and die shops in Manhattan. After years of watching the neighborhood grow and transform from its Bond Street location for 70 years, James Galuppo, the owner, has reluctantly closed the shop’s doors.
Tool and die employees are a class of machinists in the manufacturing industry and make a variety of things one doesn’t usually think twice about—jigs, fixtures, dies, molds, machine tools, cutting tools and more. Galuppo invented the anti-coin theft device that was installed in most of the city's pay phones. ConEd was also one of Etna's biggest clients, making the tools they use every day in the streets. But the shop's patrons varied: Galuppo developed dies that were used to cut out fabricated flowers that are still on display at The Natural History Museum. He also helped neighborhood fixtures, outfitting salons with hair dryer holders, and designing a custom memorial piece for the FDNY on Great Jones Street after 9/11. Galuppo regularly helped members of the Hells Angels who needed a custom item for their bike.
The family owns the building on Bond Street, and Galuppo's daughter Flavia says she intends on "honoring my father’s wishes by maintaining the building" and not selling it, retaining the few commercial tenants it still has.
Etna has had high profile neighbors over the past 30 years, from Jean-Michel Basquiat in the '80s to Ian Schrager-designed condos today. Etna is the last tool and die shop in what was once a neighborhood known for manufacturing and fabrication.
James Galuppo, born in 1918 on the Lower East Side, prepares to close Etna Tool & Die—a business he has called home for over 70 years. Under his desk he keeps a container of about 200 flyers announcing the closure of other US-based tool and die plants as production moves overseas.
Galuppo opened the business with his partners and friends, the brothers Guy and Prospero Angelino. Later, the Angelinos left the business and Galuppo’s wife, Keranus, and daughter Flavia, began to run the shop alongside James.
Galuppo, a machinist who considers himself an artist, once designed a jetpack to make humans fly. Although it was never completed or fully functional it was once displayed at the World Trade Center.
When Zhi Fen Liang, known as Fen, moved to the United States from Canton, China he spoke little to no English. Despite the language barrier, Fen quickly rose to become Galuppo’s foreman and ran the shop. He has been working for Etna Tool & Die for thirty years.
Etna Tool & Die made everything from mass-produced equipment for the city to custom one-offs. During the past few years, their clientele had largely been antique dealers or the trendy restaurants taking over the Bowery. Although small orders weren’t always profitable, Galuppo felt sympathetic to his clients’ needs.
“Fen married the family,” says James Galuppo. Fen still enjoys working on personal projects in the shop.
Juan Familia, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was formally trained as a machinist in his home country and has been working at Etna for twenty years. Throughout the shop's history, Etna's employees have been skilled immigrants from all over the world.
The shop produced a variety of custom machinery such as jigs, fixtures, dies, molds, cutting tools and gauges for clients.
Most everything in the shop is made of metal or wood and has withstood the test of time. “A lot of work has come in as a repair items because things are being manufactured so poorly,” says Galuppo. "It's a disposable society. People don't know where to fix it, and then they throw it out."
Originally from Puerto Rico, Isander (Sandy) Rojas, served as an elevator boy in the building before working for Etna Tool & Die full time. He has been a dear friend and employee to Galuppo for fifty years.
Only Juan and Fen’s nametags remain. Though business ground to a halt over the past few months, they still clock in and out when they're in the shop working on their own projects.
All photos by Sophie Butcher & Martin Diegelman / FameFameFame