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Patagonia Portraits: Joe Apicella

Photo: Chris Battaglia.

Photo: Chris Battaglia.



#PatagoniaPortraits: An ongoing, weekly storytelling series that aims to highlight the important folks who share the stories of @patagonia retail products and greater environmental mission. Direct from the stockrooms, sales floors, and back offices, our goal is simple: provide a dose of sensory nutrition through visual, aural, and written accounts by any employee willing to share their story.

Beginning with the most tenure in the Patagonia Freeport Outlet is Joe Apicella.
Joe has been with the company for nearly 23 years. He landed his first part-time role because of a folding board. Everyday, he rides 22 miles each way to and from work because as he puts it, “you can’t save the world only when the weather’s nice.”

Our interview:

The transcript:

VV: Tell us your name and your relationship to the Company.

JA: Well, I’m Joe Apicella, and I’ve been here 22, going on 23 years. I had a friend that worked here. I came into  to go to lunch with him, actually, one day, and he taught me how to use the folding board. The manager asked me if I wanted a job, but I already had a job, so I said ‘no.’

Then two or three days later, they were having an evening program. I was giving my friend a ride home, so I was trying to help - so i could get him out of here quickly - I was putting chairs away, and she said, “Really, do you want a job?” And I said, “Well, if you can fit it around fishing, and rafting, and these other things…” So she said, “when do you want to start?”

Sometimes it was one day a month, some days it was five days a month. If the weather was bad and the boat didn’t go out, I was available, if it went out, I wasn’t available.

So anyway, they worked around that, and then slowly, fishing in Maine is dying, and I worked in the “half time” and the lady that was sharing the other half of my job, had a baby, and didn’t come back to work, so I took the job full-time. So I slowly over 6 or 7 years worked into a full-time job in the back room. And just so you know, it’s the best job in the company.

VV: Why is that?

JA: Because I can go on the floor when I want to, and talk to customers, put bags out, and then I can go in the back and kick boxes and they don’t get angry with me or mad at me. You know. It’s the best job in the place, at the best store in the co- well, maybe not that, but could be the best store in the company!

VV: And you've always worked here in the Freeport store?

JA: Yeah. I’ve spent a day here and there. I spent a day in the Austin store to help open that store. I worked a day or two in the Boston store, but My paycheck’s from here, this is where I’ve been working.

VV: It's a very unique way you got hired to the company.

JA: You can’t hire that way any more. You have to be either seasonal, or part time, or full time. We’re still not LL Bean, but we’re a lot more corporate now, where we’re limited to the 500 hours a year- it’s changed. We’ve gotten bigger.

VV: You see the shipping, the front, the business. it’s a really unique position, certainly.

Okay, so how do you get here every day?

JA: Well I was riding my bike most days to work. Scott was the manager here when they did the "pay you not to bring your car to work program,” and I didn’t know they were doing it. One day he said You just got a $500 raise! And I said, 'what did I do?' 'Well, we’re gonna pay people two dollars in, two dollars home, not to bring their car, and you already bring your bike.'

And I live in Harpswell which is an easy commute because it’s backroads. I’m not sure it would be the same if i lived or worked in SoHo, or that area. I get to ride by some beautiful farms. I go by the ocean first thing in the morning. So my ride here is usually between 22, and I’ve done, well - during bike to work week I was doing 60 miles in the morning on my way to work. That was kind of a little crazy…

VV: Yeah but you’re crazy! That’s amazing.

JA: Yeah, but I try to get here... you know, I get up early (I live alone anyway). Riding your bike is great; you get to watch the sunrise, country roads, its beautiful. And I try to get there 15-20 minutes early so I don’t smell too bad when other people walk in the door.

VV: What has kept you here for more than 20 years, with the company, and at the Maine store?

JA: I’ve had some issues, not with the company, but I had a house fire back 15 years ago. And I told the managers at that time I couldn’t come to work for a few days. She said why, I told her we had the fire, she said you’re coming in tomorrow and you’re bringing your wife!

You spend your whole life trying to give things back to your community, not take things away. So we were trying to tell people we don’t need anything. She took my wife upstairs and if she had said ‘go pick out two outfits and we’re going to give them to you,’ she would have said no we’re fine. But she took her in the back and she said, 'Do you like this one or this one? Which do you like better?' It’s like, you’re going to leave with one of these, which made it acceptable, I guess, in a sense. So they were really good to us when the house burned down.

And then we got everything from every dog box from around the country that was my size (mens large or women’s medium came to us). Every store in the company was sending us stuff. They raised $10k in raffle money at the register and through some other things to get us going, rebuilding. 

And then when my wife got cancer, Scott was now the manager. And I think this would have happened at other companies, but when I told him Tuesdays were chemo days, so I’d like to go to her chemo thing. And Wednesday won’t be too good for her after the chemo. Friday she’s got radiation in the morning, I could work in the evenings! And I got Saturdays and Sundays..

He didn’t even look at the schedule. 'Okay,' he said, 'Tuesdays and Wednesdays are your days off, you work the evenings as soon as you can get here after radiation. And you’re going to work all weekend.'

He didn’t even look to see if it fit the store schedule. He knew that's what we needed to get through that, and it - you know, it’s just the way it happened. Not that it happened - I think a lot of companies would have done it. But he didn’t even look - he didn’t care. That’s what you need.

So that's Scott, and that’s the company's philosophy, asking what do the employees need? They look after us I guess, in a sense. It’s staff oriented - or, people oriented. As opposed to 'Well, geez, you’re going to have to take 6 months off because it doesn’t fit into our schedule.'

Plus, the ethic of the company! I hang my shirts - I only have about 8 shirts, I hang them in the closet: and that’s how I wear them. Thats the company: "Don’t buy it if you don’t need it!”

I originally worked at Beans. But Beans is so corporate, I couldn’t fit rafting into their schedule. Here, they were willing to build my schedule around rafting, which was why I came to Maine in the first place. Now its not quite so easy - like I said earlier - we’ve gotten a little more corporate. I’s not so easy for me to get my time off to go rafting, but I still get to go. And I’m getting older I can’t raft all that much now, anyway!

VV: How long have you been in Maine, and why did you move here in the first place?

JA: Been in Maine 35, 40 years. I rafted full time for a number of years, and then probably 5 or 6 years in, my wife needed to be near the ocean again. So we moved to Belgrade for a year, and then it was the coast.


Follow the project as it evolves!