Staples: JT Tompkins
By Marjorie Olds
Oct 17, 2018
Many readers have been out of town, even out of the country when they need emergency tech assistance: They’ve washed their iPhone in with their clothes. They spill coffee on their keyboard.They forgot their charging cable. So, they make their way to a Staples store and feel comforted that everything seems familiar.
While chatting with JT Tompkins, manager of the Staples store in Ithaca someone comes in with their computer for a free intake analysis: How is the computer running? It takes no persuasion for the owner to spring for the $10 PC Tune Up. Tompkins: “It’s like an oil change, available 363 days a year […] Customers come in with a dropped phone, a cracked screen, to purchase additional memory or software, to have a new computer battery installed, or to arrange work done on a hard drive…Customers love the fact that they can follow up with their equipment wherever they take it, since Staples is available pretty much everywhere.”
Tompkins grew up listening to Ithaca musician Johnny Dowd’s music in Buffalo; and for some reason living in Ithaca was a mythological goal for him. When a company he joined after college invited the then-single Tompkins to move to Ithaca, he packed his car and made the drive. When the opportunity arose, Tompkins moved over to Staples and has spent the past seven years in the Ithaca store.
“I always wanted to ‘Get to Ithaca’ and once here, I fell in love with Ithaca,” he said.
“Doing business in retail in Ithaca has its challenges,” Tompkins said, but the ebb and flow of population, following the curve of the academic year, has not daunted him. Helping staff when scheduling, transportation, family or health issues arise has kept his personal skills fresh. “I get to spend time with all the associates and I like that, since I’m a networker. When their needs are met, we can all be invested in the game.”
Many of the staff have been with Tompkins for some time, and quite a few who have moved from Ithaca transfer to one of the other 1300 Staples stores across the country, even overseas.
“As manager, when things are humming along, I also get a chance to talk to customers, and before I know it, they are coming back,” Tompkins said. “I’m invested in the customers’ experience and I love the interactions.”
(He admits that his store gets lots of good Customer Reviews; and to celebrate he fills the refrigerator in the staff Break Room with fruits and vegetables and snacks. (Frozen snickers bars are a staff favorite.) Customer surveys count!
Staff note Tompkins’s enthusiasm for Ithaca influences their decision to succeed at work and to savor the chance to live here too. When not working, Tompkins is known in the community as a Festival Guy.
He and a core group of friends put on a concert series in Newfield, NY each summer. One of his sidekicks, Vanessa Greenlee, raises the funding through local grants. This year Tompkins’s hero, Johnny Dowd, played the final concert, while the Fall Creek Brass Band, Notorious Stringbusters, Road Man and Anna Coogan wowed the audiences in the Pavilion on Main Street. (“A scene right out of Norman Rockwell.”). Everyone has a good time.
Tompkins mentions the Grayhaven Motel as another cool, albeit unusual, site for shows: “Gina Keicher did a poetry show there via Low Profile. Great people bought the Grayhaven, updated the site, while preserving the kitschy charm of the place. Everyone loves this locale and all our friends loved the show.” (Tompkins confides: “I’m working on a gourmet chocolate tasting event there soon. Chimes of Bayonets will be doing a Low Profile Show at the Bowl-a-drome soon. So, stay tuned.”)
He explains that he and his buddies are not in it for the money: “None of the shows make money, but it’s one way to give back to a great community; and the shows are attended by a big, sweet group of friends. It’s very DIY. We think of something we want to share, and we say, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Piled on his desk are t-shirts for the upcoming Cancer Resource Center Walkathon, which Tompkins and friends from work and out in the community are supporting. He heaps praise on the CRC staff and knows first-hand how much it means to families facing down cancer to have the community’s support. Tompkins, his wife and son will be joined by friends and co-workers walking together.
Frequent flyers at Staples on Meadow Street note that his larger than life personality has made the Ithaca Staples unique. He modestly agrees: “Even though we’re a big box store, I really try to run the store like a mom and pop. Everyone has accepted me into this great community, and my goal is to add to it and give back where I’m able.”
Fantastic chocolate tasting and Bowl-o-Drome shows mentioned above have already happened, but never fear-there’s another bowling/show event on March 30. Meantime, DO NOT miss the Johnny Dowd official CD release and bonus Family Art opening March 1 at the Grayhaven. You’ll get to see a new side to John’s wack sensibility, and a peek at his genetic co-conspirators talents as well. To top it all off, profit from the art sales goes to the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. (That right, it’s yet another Dowd bringing that great cause to the table).
Thanks to Low Profile for making it happen…