Updated: December 04, 2019 06:45 PM
Created: December 04, 2019 06:30 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — It takes a certain type of person to hang from the side of a high-rise building, but that's the profession Ben Alt has chosen. He is president of Main Window Cleaning in Rochester.
"We provide commercial window cleaning, that is our number one service," Alt said. "We specialize in the high rise, the tough access—as you can see on the scaffolds or the bosun's chairs, all the way down to the residential, storefronts, we take care of hospitals and things like that."
Alt started out cleaning windows for another company about a decade ago. Four years ago, he bought Main Window Cleaning, an established family business that has been around for a century.
"So Main Window Cleaning was started by a gentleman by the name of Edward Kram back in 1918. And I purchased it from his grandson.
So it had been in his family for 97 years," Alt said.
Look up on any given day and you may see Alt and his crew cleaning some of Rochester's tallest buildings—standing on a scaffold or seated in what is called a bosun's chair.
"So we take care of the Legacy Tower—the old Bausch & Lomb headquarters. We do the First Federal Building, Crossroads Building, Five Star Tower for years," Alt said.
We caught up with Ben and his foreman Rob last week as they cleaned the federal courthouse in Buffalo—a challenging all-glass building.
"Just from the design of the building, as you could see if you are looking where the gentleman was cleaning, the access to get to that and as well as the entire curved part of the building is wrapped in partition glass, so you're not only cleaning the exterior of one side, you have two sides behind you that you have to clean as well," Alt explained.
When he was younger, Alt says he didn't like heights and wouldn't even ride glass elevators. Now he says he enjoys the dizzying heights.
Brett Davidsen: “Do you look down?”
Ben Alt: "You do look down, yeah. At first, everyone says don't look down, but you do. And after a while, you really just feel like it's not different than if you and I were standing here and there was a window in front of us."
Window cleaning is routinely named one of the most dangerous professions, but these are not foolhardy risk-takers. Alt says they have a number of safeguards in place—main lines are backed up by safety cables, and he says when the winds pick up, they pack up and return another day.
Brett Davidsen: “What's it like to be up there alone with your thoughts?”
Ben Alt: "I think really you're just focusing on the work, but it's also nice because it's just you and your work. There's no outside distractions, so it's kind of a surreal feeling to be up there."
There is an artistry to window washing—the fluid motion of the squeegee as it fans the window. The skyscraper is their canvas as admirers marvel at their work, often from the other side of the glass.
Brett Davidsen: “What's that like as you're cleaning to be looking in the windows at people?”
Ben Alt: "A true window cleaner looks at the glass and not through it, but when we do look through, you do see a lot of happy faces because when they're up in the building, the view is really everything."
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