PTAP owner Jason Gamache talks about his love for the "village" feel of downtown Columbus, and his dream for renovating the old YMCA building
Jason Gamache is still three years from his 40th birthday, but has enjoyed the kind of business success than most people don’t see in a lifetime.
The owner of PTAP started the business as a Columbus High School student detailing cars.
Today, he is most likely to be found at the PTAP store on Veterans Parkway or riding a bike around downtown, where he has become a substantial residential and commercial property owner. Recently, he purchased the historic YMCA on 11th Street and plans to renovate it.
He sat down with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams to talk about his business, his love for downtown and why he is investing in that part of town.
Here are excerpts of that interview edited for length and clarity.
Q: What is PTAP?
A: PTAP is Perfect Touch Automotive Playground. It started as Perfect Touch Detail. When I was 17, I was detailing vehicles, and loved vehicles, then got into automotive accessories — saved up $200 to invest in automotive accessories, which I called Automotive Playground. The customers still called us Perfect Touch. I called us Perfect Touch Automotive Playground, and customers did not like that. They wanted it shortened, so we made it PTAP.
Q: That was when you were still in high school, right?
A: Correct. When I was at Columbus High, my 12th grade year teacher Mr. (Chris) Lindsay, who is now the principal of Carver, allowed me to work after school at my own company, which was pretty rare. He believed in me, and it worked.
Q: You were customizing people’s vehicles, you were tricking them out, right?
A: Yeah. We were doing moderate accessories at the beginning, and there wasn’t a huge need for it. It was a little bit different than today. Today, our largest competitor, just like most businesses, is the internet. ... We got into the market at the right time, and the biggest thing then was having product in stock.
Q: Did you realize you were building a business that was going to sustain you into adulthood?
A: I believed I was building a business, but I was told by many that what I was doing was a fad, that it would possibly last two years and it would fade away. ... (But) not only have we changed with our customers and with the trends, we’ve also grown with a lot of our customers. Now, we do business with clients that are 16 and 17 years old, and we do business with clients that are 70 and 80 years old.
Q: Do some of those people that told you it was a fad, are they still around?
A: You know, I don’t know. I always look ahead and look forward. I work with the people that work with me and not against me. I’m not really sure where they’re at today. I love people, and this might sound like a crazy term, but I love the haters. I feel like when you’re not being hated on, I’m not doing enough. Any time I feel like I haven’t stacked my haters up, then I tend to realize I need to work a little bit harder.
Q: When you started this, a lot of people didn’t understand what PTAP was. They would throw out stuff like he’s dealing drugs, or he’s doing this, or he’s doing that. They were saying things that obviously weren’t true. Was that their way of trying to hurt the business or be a hater?
A: I believe so. You know, I hear statements all the time. In the area of business and industry we’re in, you see different people in all industries that are involved in all types of illegal acts or whatnot. I work hard. I’m the hardest worker that I know. Nobody will ever outwork me in my industry — ever.
Q: What kind of car do you drive?
A: It’s a turbo bicycle from Ride On Bikes. That’s traditionally how I get to work. I get to drive such awesome vehicles that are either shop vehicles or ... I honestly, for a week straight, I drove different clients’ vehicles from the Eagle & Phenix, where I live, because I was servicing their vehicles. So, I drove them to PTAP, worked on them, then drove them home.
Q: You are an automotive guy, you work in this industry, but you don’t have a garage full of tricked-up, fancy cars?
A: I’ve done that before, and I had a lot of awesome vehicles. I’m in a different stage of my life where not only am I focused more on my other passion, which is real estate investment, but I have access to lots of awesome vehicles. I’ve been bitten by the uptown bug, and to be able to walk to work, or to ride my bike to work from right up the street is awesome. I tell people all the time if you’re not living in uptown, you’re not living the dream.
Q: Do you like working with the soldiers?
A: I love it.
Q: You do a lot with special operations guys, right?
A: We do. We do a lot with a lot of soldiers. You know, the best treat to me was when we first started getting a lot of soldiers being deployed, and they didn’t have anywhere to put their vehicles, I come up with the idea of “Why don’t you just leave your vehicle here? We’ll maintain it, take care of it. If you want us to do anything to it while you’re gone, we can.” That grew drastically. One thing that happened, we had a soldier that reached out to us and said, “Hey, will you shoot me a picture of what you just did to the car?” It was very, very minor.
At the moment, I thought it was a little bit ridiculous because it was such a small item. But it was a light-bulb effect that I realized that what we were doing to their vehicle might have been small to us, but to them it was something that they could have pride in, and look forward to seeing. From there, what we started doing is we take video and pictures for our soldiers that are deployed or at special training, and we email them to them, and we email them updates of their vehicle. It allows them to kind of showboat a little bit, and let them show their buddies the different things that they’ve done to their vehicle. When they come home, and their vehicle’s ready, it’s detailed, it’s got fuel in the tank, and it’s ready to rock and roll for them.
Q: Where did that work ethic to drive you to start a business at 17 come from?
A: Well, my work ethic, without a shadow of a doubt, comes from my mother and father, Cindy Gamache and Jack Gamache. My grandfather as well, Gene Richmond.
Q: You say your work ethic comes from your parents. Tell me why that is.
A: My parents are two totally different people, and that’s what’s kind of unique about them. My mother’s very quiet, and very, very, very book smart. My father could strike up a conversation with any stranger, and has got the slickest street smarts of any man I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Combined, I’ve gotten to grow and learn from both of them.
Q: You’re buying both residential and commercial, and own 20-something properties, all in the downtown area. What flipped for you to say, “I need to be investing in real estate?”
A: One thing is that I owned multiples of businesses at one time. I had something that I worked with with marketing, I dealt with interactive websites, I had an apparel company. When I did all that, it was a lot of fun, it was a little bit of diversity, and it generated some decent revenue. I realized that it was cutting out a lot of the time that I would spend with my friends and my family, which is the most valuable thing that I have. Then I have a passion for architecture and real estate, and the reoccurring revenue. I love seeing a project of something like a historical home or a historical building, like the Sister Wig project in the 1100 block of Broadway, which was probably to this date the most fun I had on any project that we’ve done.
Q: Talk a little bit about the Sister Wig project.
A: Sister Wig was a building that I purchased ... probably three, four years ago easily.
It was an interesting purchase. I told my wife if I came home with a purple wig and a samurai sword then she knew I closed the deal. Because the deciding factor for the people selling the property was the property kept getting bid up, and I finally said, “You know what? I’m going to walk in, and I’m going to offer to buy all the product and the property, and they can basically walk away and move to Tahiti if they wanted to.” It ended up working. It was a blessing, very big blessing. That piece of property, I feel like, as far as the interior design, is one of the most dynamic pieces of interior properties on that block, on that street.
Q: You found hidden treasures in that building.
A: We found architectural treasures, we found square footage in that particular property. Because when we removed the original wig shelves that were 12-inch-by-16-foot knotty pine wood, when we removed those shelves, there was another wall. We removed that wall, and behind that wall was the original shoe shelves from Butler Shoes in the ’60s. That’s 260 free square feet, not to mention the ceiling, that was a jewel in itself. That was a 25-foot, arched, hand-laid wood ceiling that was in fantastic shape. We went in with scaffolding, skimmed all the paint, repainted it, revitalized the ceiling. Like I said, if somebody hadn’t seen it, they need to go check it out. It’s an awesome piece of property.
Q: Posh Peach is there now.
A: They’re doing a phenomenal business. They’re growing so much. ... Posh Peach had a successful truck business where they went different places, they wanted to take it to a brick and mortar level.
The guys at Maltitude, the same situation. ... I saw in Garrett (Lawrence) and Miles’ (Greathouse) eye that they had a passion for what they were doing. Erin, from Posh Peach, I saw the passion in her eye of what she had for her business. She thought the space was entirely too big. ... It gave me an opportunity to offer her a great deal on that piece of property that she thought was way too big, and now she’s out of space. She needs more space.
Q: Another misconception of you, when you bought that building, was the concern that there he goes, he’s going to put another bar downtown.
A: My No. 1 competitor with the purchase was another bar owner that wanted to put a bar there. That’s a whole other story. When I found that out, that was just more fuel for me to make sure that I had that acquisition. ... Because I have nothing against the bars and the nightclubs in uptown. That brings another dimension of activity for uptown. At that time, I felt like we were capped out. We had enough of that. We need more retail in the uptown market.
Q: Do you think the traditional Columbus businessman, real estate investor, misunderstands you?
A: I’m not really concerned with how they interpret me as far as my business skills. I think that some people might think that some of my practices don’t make as much sense, but I’m not living for them, I’m living for God. I want to do the right thing, and I want to be successful, but I want to see other people be successful. Every time I hear of a new business or something new that’s happening, if it’s a pocket park, or the playground that we have right here next to the zip line — I don’t have children — I was so excited about that playground, I’m so excited to hear about pocket parks, and different things that are happening in my own backyard. I have a different level of investment. It’s not just about the dollar. It’s about making my own village a better place.
Q: Which brings us to the old YMCA on 11th Street. You just bought it. Many, many people in this town turned that deal down. Why’d you buy it?
A: I bought it because it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece of architecture that has to have its life extended. We’ve got to figure out exactly the right way to put that project together, but I’m going to tell you, since the article came out about the acquisition of that property, I’ve never in my entire life gotten as much feedback as I have from anything I’ve ever done.
Q: Positive or negative?
A: Positive, 100 percent positive. I had an older woman grab my hand the other night at a restaurant, that I had never met in my entire life, and thank me for taking on that project. The coolest thing about every conversation I’ve had has been the stories behind that particular piece of property. There is so much history that people have no idea about, of people living or had family that lived there or went there to that particular piece of property. A lot of people don’t understand that the YMCA was not originally designed for athletics. It was designed for young men to have fellowship and live in a YMCA.
Q: It was a boarding house in the early 1900s, right?
A: Basically, yeah. ... When you can brighten a piece of property and redo a piece of property, it allows each and every one of those people that have reached out to me, it touches their life, and it allows them to tell that story again about their father, their grandfather, their great-grandfather, their uncle, or some type of particular story that involves that building. It lets those stories live.
Q: The building’s in terrible shape. What it’s going to take to bring it back to viability?
A: I don’t believe the building is in that bad of shape. That might be the craziness in my mind, but I’ve seen what other people in other communities have done with buildings in way worse shape than that piece of property. I do not have a time frame. I want it to happen as soon as possible. I do not have exact plans yet, because when you’re working with a piece of property like that, there are so many dimensions of change that can happen. You’re going to find treasures, and you’re going to find disasters within that project. That’s what’s crazy. I’m looking forward to both of those, because that’s the journey, and I want to enjoy the entire journey.
I want people to educate me. I’ve told people, and I’ve challenged any developer or property owner or whatnot, if you have something where you’ve made a mistake, or you’ve been successful, I’ve told people, I’ve given them full permission, if you see that I’m doing something incorrectly, reach out and slap my hand and let me know. I’m not an expert on development whatsoever. I plan to become an expert, and I plan to educate myself, and I plan to be a sponge and listen to anybody that will give me any knowledge they possibly can. Because the end-all goal is to take a beautiful piece of history, redevelop it, and let other people enjoy it. Let the people that have been involved in that particular piece of property tell their stories and let that piece of property live on again.
Q: If you do it right, you make money off of it at the end of the day.
A: Absolutely. I will tell you, this piece of property is going to be a challenge. That’s probably why some people passed on it. It might be a challenge to get a return on the investment for that piece of property, but I’m telling you, it was a challenge when I first started PTAP to get a return on my investment at the beginning, but I had a passion for what I’m doing. I treated people right, and I did the right thing. I believe if you can treat people right, and do the right thing, I believe that God opens doors and allows you to be successful in moving forward. What does that success entail? Does it entail that my bank account grows? Maybe that’s not it.
If it can allow other people, and inspire other people to move into uptown, which spawns another really cool retail space or another restaurant that I get to enjoy, well, there’s my success. It might not be driven on just the dollar, but if I can take my own neighborhood and do something positive for my own neighborhood that drives retaining young talent ... that is a success in itself.
Q: Who are the people that you’ve turned to for advice and have helped you along this trip?
A: I’ve been blessed enough to be able to be around a lot of awesome people and companies. W.C. Bradley is a big corporation. I look at them as a big company. They have been helpful in not just me, but educating the public of what they’re doing, and goodwill. ...
Buddy Nelms, Reynolds Bickerstaff, Chris Woodruff, Doug Jefcoat ... Leah Braxton. ... I’m not looking myself as being on a W.C. Bradley level or a Reynolds Bickerstaff level, or a Chris Woodruff level. They do very big projects, and they do very big things. I just want the crumbs. I want the crumbs of whatever that they might not be interested in. That’s why I believe the YMCA might have got overlooked. I feel like that might have been a crumb, even though it might be a big crumb.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: That’s tricky. I would have to say the accomplishment I’m most proud of is having respect in the community, and having people understand the direction I’m going, or giving me the trust that I’ll do the right thing. ...
Q: I’ve heard people say you are the next generation of Buddy Nelms.
A: Buddy is amazing. That’s another person that I’ve got to listen to, to sit and listen to. ... There are so many people in our community that give back to Columbus in so many different ways. ... You’ve got John Turner, that had the craziest dream of what people thought of having boats come down the river as a recreation. He made it happen. How amazing is that?
Q: What are you going to be doing in 20 years?
A: I hope walking the streets of uptown, loving my neighborhood like I do when I walk to work everyday today. I don’t plan on going anywhere. ... I see my future, my end-all future, as retiring right here in my backyard.
Q: Are we close to critical mass?
A: Absolutely not. We have a lot of room to grow. There’s a lot of things. I think we’ve scratched the surface. There’s been a lot of conversation about uptown, and you know, the peaks and valleys of what’s happened, and how the downtown district was awesome, and then it fell. That’s the life cycle of a lot of communities. I lived in uptown when I was 18 years old, 19 years old, I lived in a loft apartment.
Q: If you had told the 18-year-old Jason that was living the single life above a storefront in downtown Columbus how successful he’d be today, what do you think he would have said?
A: He would say, “We have to get back to work and make something happen.” I don’t really look at the assets that I had as success beacons, I don’t do that. I’ve never looked at a car that I’ve driven and thought, “Oh, look at me.” That’s just not where I’m at. I want to work on the next thing. I love what I do, I love the journey. I want to continue to buy pieces of property. ... Since we’ve moved down here, we’ve moved a variety of friends down here. I’ve moved my mother and father down here, my mother-in-law down here, her business, Meritage, down here. That’s success. Being able to walk to a friend’s house, or being in a living environment where the people that live in my building run into each other and we decide, “Do you want to walk to dinner?” We walk to dinner and have an awesome dinner and walk home at a moment’s notice, that’s the success.
Job: Owner, PTAP (Perfect Touch Automotive Playground), an automotive shop that does everything from sell accessories to make major repairs to vehicles. This is the company’s 20th year of operation.
Resides: Downtown Columbus
Education: Columbus High School, 1998; attended Columbus State University. “Manipulated the system at CSU and took every course I could take in business education, business law, accounting, computers, anything that would help launch and make my business better,” Gamache said. “Then went on from there. Basically, got all the ingredients I needed.”
Family: Alayne, wife of three years.