Wilmington city center keeps the horse-drawn carriage tradition alive thanks to a couple
John and Janet Pucci were both born in Ohio and raised as neighbors. Janet’s father owned a mobile home park called Springbrook Farms, hence the name of their transport business in Wilmington.
On their wedding day, John surprised Janet with a horse and carriage during the ceremony. John knew a friend who ran a horse and carriage business. This was when the idea for the business first appeared after friends and relatives also came along.
They founded the Springbrook Farms Carriage Company downtown in 1987. Back then, the downtown area was undergoing a renaissance and the Puccis saw the bones and structure of a vibrant future.
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Based on the timing, they believed they could contribute to the ongoing revitalization process while saving horses and starting their own business. And 34 years later, roaming the streets of downtown Wilmington and giving locals and visitors a unique take on the city’s history, the tradition remains strong.
To quote John and Janet, “We are more concerned with saving horses than making money in the car business. Horses are our family.
How it started
The friend who took care of the horse and carriage rides wanted to retire so he called John and asked him to handle the next wedding for him. He told John he would train him on how to handle the touring operation.
So they started doing this for a living. They were having fun, but they were just paying the bills and not making any money.
They had a friend in Pittsburgh who did weekend horse and carriage tours. He invited them to join him on the tours. It operated in the Station Square neighborhood, a riverside location in the city of Pittsburgh. At the time, Station Square was in its infancy in terms of revitalization. John and Janet were unaware of Wilmington at the time.
John studied the idea of using draft horses as his friend. They were strong and docile, especially the Percherons. Amish farmers have had a problem with the big processing companies going to horse auctions and outbidding their competitors. Then they would take the horses out of the county to process them.
John and Janet decided that if they got into this business they would look for Draft Percherons who needed a home, not farming. To this day, they have a lifelong bond with Amish farmers who are trying to save their workhorses from processors.
John and Janet only use rescued percheron geldings, saving them from the fate of the Transformers.
When Springbrook buys the horses, the Amish train them for the city, and the horses have a long and easier lifespan at Springbrook Farms.
Horses love the attention they get from the public. John and Janet give special care to the horses.
John helped found the Carriage Operators of North America (CONA) to help establish and maintain strict operating standards for the industry.
Transition from Ohio to Wilmington
Janet didn’t like the Ohio cold. But she didn’t want to go back to Florida because it was too hot. She loved the weather in North Carolina, especially in the Wilmington area.
They took a vacation and traveled across North Carolina, looking for the perfect location for their new business. When they landed at the foot of Market Street in downtown Wilmington, they knew they had found the right place.
Bob Jenkins, the quintessential downtown personality, has been a great help and encouragement for the Puccis and a role model for their business. Carl Marshburn and the Henrietta were also encouragement. Times were tough at first, due to the loss of Belk’s, JCPenney’s and Sears to Independence Mall, but they have improved year on year.
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It was not an easy road, but they held on and stuck to the agenda, making their business the success it is today.
Animal cruelty issues
During John and Janet’s tenure at Springbrook Farms, they were occasionally criticized for claiming that they were cruel to their horses by making them work so hard.
Animals no longer have the same status as they once did and are sometimes not treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. The Puccis said their primary goal is to protect their animals and provide them with a full life, even after they retire from transport. Their love of animals, especially their horses, is the main motivation for running their business.
To demonstrate this point, John helping to create CONA. The main objective of this organization is to publish and promote standards to treat animals with the dignity they deserve.
In addition, they built a high quality shelter in the city center to protect the horses from the elements. It also serves as a safe place to hitch and hitch them off the street. Once again, the safety of the horses is paramount. They also passed a local ordinance to ensure proper treatment of the horses.
The final element in the ethical treatment of their horses concerns the farm they have established in Brunswick County, from where their horses are transferred to Wilmington, and which provides them with a place to live comfortably the rest of their lives. One of their most prized horses, Radar, lived to be 33 years old.
Despite the pandemic and the ups and downs of starting a business from scratch over the years, the Puccis have built careers and made a living. No, they did not get rich in this business, but they did live a comfortable life. When they started in the business, Janet had to sell hot dogs by the river to supplement their income. Business was slow at first.
No, they did not get rich in this business, but they did live a comfortable life.
Like most businesses, the pandemic has had a somewhat negative effect. They separated the seats in 6 foot increments and placed barriers between the riders. They disinfect the seats after each trip. They marked the sidewalks near the car entrance area and provided safety signs, all before regulations were made mandatory.
After working hard for 34 years in any company, you would think most people would be interested in retiring.
Asked about retirement, John and Janet said they would consider retirement if they could find people who shared their vision and goals for running the business and who were willing to provide the critically important training to horses and people. conductors.
Then they may be willing to move “to pasture”.
Gene Merritt is a real estate developer and curator from Wilmington. He was the co-founder and first executive director of what is now Wilmington Downtown, Inc. He was also the founder of the annual Downtown Riverfest.