The ’90s was an interesting time. The era is known for a variety of weird and colorful inventions, such as slap bracelets and light-up shoes, and famous figures from basketball legend Michael Jordan to Pokemon’s Pikachu.
It was also during that time a Taiwanese immigrant named Thomas Chen decided to stop working in construction and start his own window manufacturing company in Queens.
“I always wanted to do something in manufacturing,” Chen said. “And when I came to New York City I saw a lot of windows, so I felt that I have to do windows.”
Although back then using his College Point home garage and his teenage son as his only employee was hardly enough to be called a company, Chen’s business has grown to become the largest window manufacturer in the city and among the top 40 in the country since its inception in 1990.
Crystal Windows & Door Systems, now headquartered in a sprawling 215,000-square-foot Flushing facility not far from their old garage, produces more than 400,000 windows a year, serving numerous customers around the country and in some parts of the world, such as the Caribbean and Asia.
The company is celebrating its quarter-century birthday this year and to pay homage to the era in which the company was founded, Crystal held a ’90s-themed customer appreciation party Wednesday at Terrace on the Park. The event featured vintage video games, including Street Fighter for Super Nintendo, a performance from a Madonna impersonator and free neon-colored slap bracelets. It was their way of saying thanks to the consumers who made the rags to riches story a reality, but also to remember a time when it was all but a dream in a garage.
“When the company first started we never thought it would get up to this size. We thought we would still remain in our garage and just make enough to survive,” said Steve Chen, son of Thomas and the chief operating officer. “And then over time companies found out about us and we just kept growing and growing.”
Steve said one of the reasons why they have become such a big company from humble beginnings is because of their focus on quality.
The company offers over 56 different styles of windows that feature green designs and are energy efficient, and they are always looking to improve their products. They’ve even added a 3-D printer in the facility so engineers can be more creative with designs.
Crystal employs about 500 people around the country, and that number could balloon to 600 during the window industry’s seasonal summer months.
They have four facilities around the country in Chicago, St. Louis and Riverside, California, and provide custom windows for new developments and renovations, for both commercial and residential buildings.
Crystal’s windows are even featured on A&E’s TV show “Flipping Boston,” and recently they made products for a new dormitory at Texas A&M University.
But despite the growth and the work around the country, Crystal has never forgotten where it all started.
Steve said they have no intentions of ever leaving Queens and that Crystal supports numerous arts and business organizations in the borough.
“The company prides itself as being New York City-based, Queens-based, because that’s where we started,” Chen said. “New York City, especially Queens has helped us grow the way we are and we always believe in giving back to the community. ”