The Old Port Specialty Tile Co. showroom is artistic and practical, trendy and timeless. High-end glass and natural stone tile samples displayed on exposed brick create a deconstructed look with a feeling of luxury.
In fact, the showroom, at 59 Middle St. in Portland, conveys a lot about the woman who runs it: 30-year-old Katie Capozza. She’s grown up in the tile business, but her artistic design sense makes her ideally suited to running the specialty tile division.
Katie is part of the third generation running the family business. Her grandfather, Joseph A. (Buddy) Capozza Jr., founded Capozza Tile Co. in 1974 with 20 years of flooring experience, a borrowed desk, a typewriter and an adding machine. In 1977, Joseph F. Capozza followed his father into the family business. With wife Jeanne working in the office, the couple’s three children—Joe, Katie and Tia—grew up surrounded by the tile business.
“My sister Tia and I played a game like the different floor pads were islands and we had to jump from one to the next,” Katie laughs.
In 2000, Joseph F. Capozza realized one of his long-term goals: founding a specialty tile division in the Old Port. In 2005, Katie joined the Specialty Tile staff at the very bottom—cleaning, greeting and answering the phone.
“I just tried it, and it was a new and exciting experience because it wasn’t the store I grew up in, and I had two very influential women to learn from,” Katie says. “By the time I was 23 or 24, I decided to make this my career and to be good at it.”
“I was always creative and artistic, so it worked out really well being at the Old Port store, where we help people design and offer one-of-a-kind materials that are like art,” she says. “But I’m also a functional person.”
Tile, she notes, is both beautiful and functional.“Your personal space, your home, is an important thing in someone’s life,” Katie says. “It’s supposed to be an expression of yourself, something you’ll see every day. That’s why we have all these beautiful custom options, but with a mix of the more basic choices. The feeling of the showroom is inspired by the look of the Old Port, with a mix of old and new, practical and unique.”
Today Katie manages a team of six—all women, which is uncommon in the construction industry. “You have to know how to conduct yourself when someone may be underestimating you from the time you step out of the car,” Katie says. “I tell my staff, just be yourself. Bring your best. If you’d don’t know something, be honest. Nobody knows everything. There’s an opportunity to learn something new every day, no matter how long you’ve been in the business.”
That practicality and patience may very well run in the family. Founder Buddy Capozza, now 83, is behind the scenes now but no less influential.
“My grandfather’s advice is timeless,” says Katie. “Methods and products change, but his general advice about how to deal with situations never goes out of style. My grandfather taught us, it’s pretty simple: You offer high quality and you treat people how you want to be treated.”
“There’s always a lot happening in this neighborhood, but it’s also part of my family and my blood,” she says, adding that her grandfather grew up there and his parents lived and worked there when they first came from Italy in the late 1880s.
While Katie runs Old Port Specialty Tile, sister Tia is a project manager in the residential division, consulting with homeowners. Their brother, Joe Capozza, runs the commercial division, as well as the newest branch of the business: Capozza Concrete Services.
“We all like to play off each other’s strengths and work as a team,” she says. “We need different styles and personalities—and honest and open communication—to make it all work.”
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.