O’Neill Outdoor Power Equipment started in Hicksville in the mid-1960s and today is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Jamesport.
“We moved out here in ’69. I was a year-and-a-half old,” said owner Sean O’Neill.
His father, Cornelious, worked in construction as he built the business. In the early days, he would travel into the city and work nights at the shop until the point he could leave the union construction field.
“When you relocate that far away, you don’t have quite the customer base to support a family of four,” Mr. O’Neill said.
Mr. O’Neill said he credits his late father, who died in 2017, for much of the respect the O’Neill name has earned over the years.
“My father and his work became more popular as time went by, introducing mopeds to the North Fork, kerosene heaters, the LP gas heaters,” he said. “It seemed like every time my parents traveled to Europe, they always brought ideas back with them on how they lived there and how to improve here. And being a child, growing up with that foresight, it was education in its own.”
Originally from Queens, Mr. O’Neill spent many years living in the house just in front of the Jamesport business. He was in third grade when he started helping out at his father’s shop, cleaning tools and parts.
“I used to play sick and then two hours later come out of the shop and work,” he joked.
His father told him then: In order to do the work, you must know the tool. He worked through school and, though he never earned a college degree, he stressed that his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army was all the recognition he needed.
“Everybody has a job, you know, we don’t get to pick our jobs in the military,” he said. “We do our jobs.”
When he returned from service, he started a rental business. That was 20 years ago, when father and son shared a shop. Now 51, Mr. O’Neill said he’s not sure what’s next, but that expanding with more branches is possible — potentially in western Suffolk. The business currently serves customers from Great Neck and Hewlett east to Orient and Montauk. The company also has a satellite mobile location with sister service programs for Nassau County.
“I can’t thank Barbara enough for what she does,” he said of his sales representative, Barbara Zilnicki. “Barbara and I, we work great together and no matter what storm comes across us, we seem to handle it. We’ve helped many people, the elderly with illnesses or people with children who have illnesses and are always counting on us, you know, with their generators. It’s great pride.”
Mr. O’Neill said he’s met many different people over many years, even the president of AT&T.
“I remember adjusting his lock mower when I was 10 years old,” he said. “I can’t tell you the people that came through these doors over the 50 years being here. To this day, you never know who’s going to pull in.”
Ms. Zilnicki and Mr. O’Neill expressed gratitude to their customers, without whom, they said, their family-oriented business would be nowhere.
“The most common phone call after a storm that we get from our community customers,” Ms. Zilnicki said, “[is]they call and they say, ‘I just want to thank you guys. Your generator did exactly what you said it would.’ They’ve become our friends, family.”
Ms. Zilnicki said customer service is what keeps the company strong.
“Whether it’s the smallest job or the biggest job, everybody’s top priority and we treat everybody equal,” she said. “That’s what they appreciate. No one’s better than the next.”
The company is holding an open house Saturday to commemorate its 50th anniversary. Representatives from Briggs & Stratton, from which O’Neill’s gets many of its products, will be in attendance.
“Our Briggs & Stratton support team are amazing,” Ms. Zilnicki said. “When we’re stuck and we can’t figure something out, their tech support people are on the ball.”
Mr. O’Neill noted that Saturday not only celebrates a half-century in business and a 20-year rental business, but it would also have been his father’s 81st birthday.