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A Greek Form of Survival

A Greek Form of Survival Rochie’s Greek Row has survived earthquake and personal tragedy as it outfits fraternities and sororities at Cal State Northridge and other universities By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter Most of the damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake that you could see has been repaired, but one local business has only recently begun to recover from the financial impact of the 6.7 tremor. Rochie’s Greek Row, which designs custom-made apparel and novelty items for fraternities and sororities, mostly for those at Cal State Northridge, is located in a 1970s-era strip mall just a stone’s throw from the apartment building in Northridge that collapsed in the quake and accounted for the greatest human loss and tragedy. The mall and many of the surrounding businesses suffered significant damage as well; most tenants have traversed a difficult road to recovery since. But for Rochie’s, that road has included enough personal tragedy that, were it not for strong customer loyalty and personal resolve, it likely would have forced its owners to shut the doors for good. Rochanak “Rochie” Saberzadeh started the company she called Greek Row in 1989 as a 20-year-old Cal State Northridge student. Her goal, said her sister Roya (who eventually joined her in the business), was to build awareness on campus of the Greek system and compel her fellow Sigma Kappa sorority members to wear their letters more prominently and proudly. “She started this as a hobby really,” said Saberzadeh of her sister, who was killed in a scuba diving accident off Catalina Island in 1991. The store has since been renamed in Rochie’s honor and a trust fund established to provide financial assistance each year to a needy Northridge student. “The idea of sporting letters back then wasn’t all that popular,” said Saberzadeh. “Greeks didn’t wear their letters or participate as much as they do today, so Rochie was really responsible for bringing new life to the culture on campus. “But she was very into fashion and she came up with designs for her (sorority) sisters that were more creative than what traditional Greeks were wearing in those days, so it just caught on by word of mouth.” These days, the client list includes fraternities and sororities from UCLA, UC Irvine and UC Riverside. But it’s the Cal State Northridge campus that has always been Rochie’s base of operations, which is why the earthquake eight years ago had such a devastating effect on the business. Prior to the quake, annual revenues averaged about $60,000. But subsequent, albeit temporary, class cancellations and disruptions on the Northridge campus left the business without its core customer base for several months. “The earthquake totally devastated the school, so we were literally without customers for a long, long time,” Saberzadeh said. “It’s been a slow road to recovery and we are only just now coming out of it.” Saberzadeh obtained three separate loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration for a total of approximately $100,000. Much of the funding was used to repair in-store damage and replace lost merchandise, which she put in the $40,000 range. In addition, Ivette Ibarra, a revolving loan program manager with the Valley Economic Development Corp., helped Saberzadeh tap funding from the organization’s Northridge Earthquake Disaster Program and later provided her with assistance in purchasing a new embroidery machine. “In Roya’s case, obviously they were very badly hurt because they saw their customer base disappear overnight,” said Ibarra. But the loans also forced Saberzadeh into debt for the first time. That, along with the tasks of building a business back up and coping with personal tragedy, has presented challenges that might have driven another small business right into the ground. “Believe me, the effects from the earthquake have carried on for a long, long time,” said Saberzadeh. “I’ve worked for years now, just to pay off the debt.” But, Saberzadeh said, it wasn’t just the financial assistance that helped her and her company survive. Customers who knew Rochie and strong word of mouth on campus have helped keep the business in a gradual growth mode, despite personal setbacks and for what is such a small company the extremely large debt load. When Alex Lucero first joined Lambda Chi Alpha in the spring of 1995, he got one quick piece of advice. “All my brothers in the fraternity house said go see Roya for great quality for letters and other paraphernalia,” he said. Revenues for Rochie’s in 2001 were $180,000, up from $160,000 in 2000, and Saberzadeh’s projecting they will pass $200,000 this year. The Internet has allowed the company to start booking orders for campus organizations and individuals throughout the nation. There are plans to expand beyond the campus into the corporate boardroom. “I’d like to market to the corporations here, to offer them the same products we do for the Greeks with their company logos,” she said. “This was my sister’s dream,” said Saberzadeh. “It’s the only way that I could find to keep her memory alive. It gives me joy in my heart.” Spotlight Rochie’s Greek Row Core Business: Custom-made clothing and novelties for fraternities and sororities Revenue in 1989: $60,000 Revenue in 2000: $160,000 Employees in 1989: 2 Employees in 2002: 2 Goal: Expand business by going after corporate accounts Driving force: Growing interest in fraternity apparel and novelties

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