Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Next Chapter

The time has come to publicly and officially share some exciting news that I’ve been antsy to shout from the rooftops for a while: I’m selling my business!

Here’s a letter my coworkers and I will be sending soon to our clients, guests, and community, which should give some more details:

In addition to this letter, we’ll do a press release and other outreach to let everyone know that this sale is a very good thing. Clark and Codey Noel will take the Uncle Marty’s brand to the next level with some forward-thinking plans in the works, including a second location in downtown Ithaca, licensing and franchising opportunities for shipping stores in other areas that want to come on board with the brand, model, and systems, and an app currently in development that has some great potential to change the game for—and exponentially expand—one of our top profit centers. It’s exciting!

We’ll be having an open house on December 30th at Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office to celebrate, thank our outstanding community for their support, and toast to the bright future of the business. If you’re local and free to stop in for a few minutes that day, we’d love to see you!

In addition to selling Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, I’ll be stepping down from my formal director roles with the Collegetown Small Business Alliance (CSBA) and the Association of Mail and Business Centers (AMBC). I will, however, retain my editing contract with AMBC to continue to produce its magazine, MBC Today, and will advise and/or assist each organization upon request, as needed.

What’s next for me? I’ve committed to be around the first half of 2024 for an ownership transition period and to assist Clark and Codey Noel in May for the busy student move-out season, and to possibly manage while they go on their honeymoon at the end of June. After that, I hope to have my home in Ithaca sold and find a little place in lower, slower Delaware. Why Delaware? My parents and brother moved there years ago and it feels right for me to now head there too so I can be closer to them and to some of my wonderful cousins who live nearby. It may not be a permanent move, but for now it’s where my heart is telling me I should be.

Going forward, I hope to do more editing, consulting, and writing, continuing to grow my Ask Uncle Marty™ column. A close colleague and I also have a collaborative motivational podcast and coaching enterprise that we’ll be doing some test runs on soon. So, while I’ll officially be retiring from shopkeeper life, I certainly won’t be retiring from the hustle. I’ll just be much more flexible to work remotely from wherever my travels take me, be available to spend more time with family, and keep my options open for whatever lies ahead. As Clark often reminds me, I’m incapable of just sitting around, so even though the thought of taking it easy for a while is very tempting, I’m sure I won’t hibernate for long.

I’ll sure miss the Ithaca community that has been so good to me and faithfully supported my business as it has grown for the past 12-plus years from the quirky little shop around the corner that I ran mostly by myself—where every other guest would come in and say to me, “You’re not old enough to be an uncle!”—to the fully-staffed neighborhood anchor destination that has become Ithaca’s go-to trusted packing and shipping hub. If you’ll indulge my parental pride for a moment, I’ll mention that Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office was one of the first AMBC Certified Gold Stores in the country, has been featured in the FedEx ShipSource® publication four times (pretty sure that’s a record), and, what I’m most proud of, maintains a consistent and authentic five-star review rating on all platforms. As I mentioned in the letter we’ll share with clients and neighbors, our growth and recognition as a model business in our industry and community is a direct result of the truly caring professionals that I am proud to call my coworkers, all of whom plan to support Clark and Codey Noel the same as they have supported me. Just as I’ll miss our community, I’ll miss working alongside this crew every day even more; they mean the world to me and truly have become family.

As is the story of many entrepreneurs who invest everything they have into a project, hoping and trusting they can make something of it in lieu of a pension or other securities of a more traditional career path, I spent a number of years putting nearly every dime I netted (and then some) back into the business, commuting an hour each way six days a week for my first seven years, eating a whole lot of ramen with paychecks often non-existent, and investing time and heart waiting on each guest who came through the doors in order to build formidable relationships in the community and understand local needs in order to adapt services offered accordingly. I depended on my outstanding family to fill in the gaps by volunteering countless hours to help when I needed them. It was years before I started to grow a team and take any time off to speak of, and there certainly were some unforeseen challenges along the way.

The year after I opened, I faced my first major challenge when I was diagnosed with a super weird and very rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. One of the first questions I asked my oncologist wasn’t a traditional question you’d think a 33-year-old with a large tumor in his tonsil and an uncertain prognosis would ask, but rather I just said, “What about my business!? I can’t leave it to go through treatment.” That’s where my headspace was: obsessed with being at the office, making sure guests were taken care of, and non-negotiably finding a plan to stay open even when I’d have to be hospitalized on and off for months to get some of the strongest and most aggressive chemo that is given to cancer patients, as my cancer was one of the fastest growing ones there is (the fastest, according to the rare lymphoma specialist who took my case at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute). Thankfully, mercifully, and through abundant grace shown to me, I not only survived, but thrived. And while I was down and out, at my behest my then-retired mom and dad devotedly dug in and kept the business going…and growing.

A few years after my cancer battle, I faced another major challenge when construction crews, without warning, shut down our street and blocked access to my business for all pickup and delivery vehicles (which is obviously not ideal for a shipping store). They did this in May, smack dab during our busiest time of the year when students are moving out, and then kept the street shut down for the better part of two years while developers leveled much of the block across the street and built shiny new buildings. It was quite the hurdle, but somehow we found a way to navigate amidst the dust. Daily, my drivers had to drag carts full of packages (often through the gravel and dirt) to their trucks that had to park on other streets. I would often pick up shipments at clients’ homes after hours because they didn’t have a way to bring them to us because of the roadblock, and I advocated at City Hall for loading zones to eventually be cut into the construction site. I even befriended some construction workers who, out of kindness, would sometimes use their forklifts to get pallets of boxes to our door. Eventually, the shiny new buildings were built and the street was opened back up and, though some of my neighbors didn’t, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office survived…and continued to thrive.

And who could forget the major challenge faced by every business and individual just a few years ago during the pandemic. When it hit and the world started shutting down, we found ourselves classified as an essential business. The local health department had protocols we had to follow, which we gladly did to keep everyone safe, and so we worked every day in-store while most of the world contrastingly sheltered at home. The local universities shut down overnight and our busy student move-out season, which is traditionally a six-week period in May and June that peaks over Memorial Day weekend, got condensed into a few days in March of 2020 with no warning or ability to stock up on supplies. Students had to catch next flights home and leave their stuff behind, so with no other option I and my coworkers pivoted right away to add the service of going to students’ apartments, video chatting with them while we packed their belongings into boxes, and then put those boxes in storage, shipped them, or donated them. It was months of late nights and doing things we had never done before, while doing the things we had always done in different ways, but we survived. And, once again, thrived. In fact, during the pandemic our business boomed!

Facing, navigating, and overcoming challenges is the core story of business ownership. Like life, business is beautifully unpredictable, with chapters full of plot twists, ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, and speed bumps large and small. There are no guarantees, but if someone keeps turning the pages, keeps the goal in view, focuses on the abundance of positives amidst a few negatives, and tries really hard to keep the momentum going, they just may end up understanding more and more of the story as time goes on and, eventually, get to a very happy ending.

Reflecting on the past 12-plus years, I believe that different challenges the business faced have not only defined it, but they fortified it; they allowed it to understand the need to be flexible and adaptive, and to blossom where it was planted because of a cacophony of Ithacans who also believed in that little shop around the corner, its mission, and, for some crazy reason, that too-young-to-be-an-uncle fellow who was running it. And, when I finally started building a team, those same Ithacans embraced my beloved “work kids” too. On days I’m at the office now and come out of my back-office lair to visit with guests, instead of commenting that I look too young to be an uncle (those days are long gone), they see my name tag and say, “Wow! There’s really an Uncle Marty!?” and that makes me smile. I’ve hit my intention: created a business that I now run instead of it running me and built a brand and has transformed the always-up-front shopkeeper into the somewhere-in-his-office-unless-he-slept-in-again caricature founder. I know the time is right for the business to be passed on to its next caretakers. Systems are in place, a phenomenal team is in control, and the future is ripe with opportunities.

I can’t begin to express how surreal it all feels to have gotten to this point, how grateful I am, how excited I am, and how optimistic I am. There’s so much I want to share, do, see, experience, and explore, and there are so many things Clark and Codey Noel will do with Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office that I neither have the oomph to do, nor the young, creative mind to fully tackle. But they have oomph, youth, and creativity in abundance. It’s working out and our guts tell us it’s the right next chapter for each of us; we feel a lot of peace with this decision.

So, friends, that’s my big news, which I fully admit could be shared in just a short paragraph instead of this longer-than-your-great-aunt’s-Christmas-letter narrative. But I wanted to share some history, context, and hopefully some encouragement to others pouring their time and effort into a project they believe wholeheartedly in. Because this little shipping store I started in 2011 with the hopes of somehow eking out a living has become something that now will allow me to semi-retire at just 44 years old, which is unbelievable, and lend my time and energy to things that I feel drawn to dig deeper into. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m dang excited for it…and profoundly grateful for each beautifully unpredictable page and character that has led to this point.

If you have any interest, please subscribe to my newsletter at to receive periodic updates on new projects, articles, hopefully a podcast launch before too long, and more. And you can always follow me on socials @askunclemarty (Instagram and TikTok). Also, please show Clark and Codey Noel all the love you can by continuing to support them and the Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office brand expansion by visiting and following the socials they’ll soon take over @unclemartysoffice (Instagram) and @unclemartys (Facebook and TikTok).

Here's to the next chapter.


This article was also also published in MBC Today Volume 26 Issue 1 on January 2, 2024.

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