OAKHURST — Next week, Steve Vinson will punch in for his last shift at the Sierra Tel Business Center, which is closing its doors after 23 years.
But the demise of the long-time local business has led to the birth of a new opportunity for Vinson, who has decided to become his own boss.
An Oakhurst resident who worked for Sierra Tel for 19 years, Vinson, 58, is teaming up with Cheryce Chartier at Pak & Page to launch the new venture, which will be called Words & Images.
As an independent contractor, Vinson will be renting a space inside Pak & Page and via Words & Images, offering many of the same design, editing and print-related services he specialized in at the Sierra Tel Business Center.
When Sierra Tel announced plans last month to close their storefront in the Vons shopping center, Vinson was one of seven employees to lose their jobs.
The business center, which also includes a Verizon store, opened in 1996 and will close permanently on May 31.
In a statement released last month, Sierra Tel said: “In our 21st century environment of digital technology, online shopping, paperless transactions and more, the majority of our customers’ and our community’s needs have changed. We now find that the level of community demand no longer exists to support continued operation of the Business Center.”
While a number of the employees who were working at the store have already found new positions at Sierra Tel, Vinson said he was ready to tackle new challenges.
“I think there’s still a real need in the community for the services we provided at the business center,” Vinson says “That’s why I decided to go my own way.”
A Seattle native, Vinson first visited the area in 1984 to work a summer job at Yosemite.
“I wanted to work in the park because I was really into rock climbing,” he says. “I wanted to be able to go climbing everyday.”
He met his wife Kim the first week on the job during orientation and ended up staying in the area and working at the park until 1999.
Today, Vinson says he’s mellowed a bit and is more into “mountain biking and backpacking” than scaling vertical rock walls.
He’s also a big San Jose Sharks hockey fan and an avid musician who used play in a popular local cover band called Stone River.
These days, Vinson is lead singer and bass guitarist for another band called Secret Planet, which is playing a Memorial Day gig this weekend in Mariposa at the Hideout Saloon.
“I’m a pretty busy guy,” Vinson admits. “My wife and I are actually raising our three granddaughters too. But that’s a whole other story.”
Vinson started working at Sierra Tel in 2000 as a customer service rep and has worked at Sierra Tel Business Center for seven years.
“I’m pretty good at translating ‘tech speak’ into something our customers understand,” he says.
The timing of Sierra Tel’s decision to close the business center “was kind of a shock,” Vinson admits.
But in recent years, he adds, “I could sort of see the writing on the wall. They had a lot of very expensive equipment, like big printers, and they were just sitting there and being used less and less.”
After the Sierra Tel Business Center closes next week, Pak & Page and other print specialty shops still operating in the area are likely to see a bump in business. Vinson and Chartier say they are ready to capitalize on the opportunity.
In his new venture, Vinson plans to offer a wide-ranging selection of graphic design, typing and editing services.
“I’ll probably be doing a little bit of everything,” he says. “I can type proposals, create invoices, design invitations or tickets for special events, you name it, I can figure out a way to do it.”
Laura Norman started working for Sierra Tel as an account executive shortly after Vinson joined the company and the two have been friends — and colleagues — for almost two decades now.
“I was concerned about where Steve would land next,” Norman says. “His affable nature and genuine desire to help people make him one of the nicest guys I know. I couldn’t be happier for him to be starting his own business where he will continue to be readily available to all of us who value his skills.”
Vinson’s first day at Pak & Page, which is located at 40108 Highway 49, is June 3.
“We’re really excited to have Steve,” Chartier says. “His knowledge in certain areas is way greater than mine. He’s a really positive and upbeat person and we like to have that kind of vibe around out store.”
As he prepares to solo his new business challenge, Vinson says he been getting “some really good advice” from friends around the community.
“They tell me I need to write a solid business plan,” he says, “and make sure I focus on doing a few things really well.”