Constructing an awning business

Roger Solomon’s story could almost be a movie. Instead, the engaging owner of Austin, Texas-based Austin American Awning Co. is happy simply to be supplying movie sets. Solomon has had his work featured in “The Newton Boys,” “Spy Kids,” “Varsity Blues,” “The Ringer,” “True Grit” and “Office Space,” among others.

“Austin hosted a lot of movie productions about the same time we opened our shop,” he says. Solomon’s latest showbiz handiwork can be seen in the recently released Disney film “Oz, The Great and Powerful,” for which he provided all of the tents, booths and other fabric work seen in the opening carnival scene, filmed in Pontiac, Mich. “We manufactured everything in Texas and shipped it to Michigan,” he says.

Belize and back

Solomon was initially in the construction business in Austin, but the building bust in the 1980s allowed him to move his operation to Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize. Among his projects there was building a research facility for the New York Zoo on an island 50 miles offshore in the Caribbean.

“The scuba diving and fishing were fantastic,” he says.

He met friends Rick Ansay and Ted Snyder of Denver’s Awning Company of America at Mom’s Café in Belize City, and they visited Solomon for a diving and fishing vacation each year. “We’d load up my boat and go island hopping for a couple of weeks,” Solomon said. “And all they talked about was awnings!”

Solomon’s construction work frequently brought him back to the U.S., primarily Houston, Texas. “Whenever I went back, I’d start looking at awnings,” he says. “And every year when those guys came down I got updates and stories, and I just got into the awning business.”

He returned to Austin in 1994, and started Austin American Awning in 1996. “My experience with the construction industry was an advantage in my new trade.” Solomon says. “Our niche is specialty contracts.” The company, which he co-owns with his wife, Maria, now has a dozen employees.

When he’s not at work in Austin, Solomon lives at and works the family cattle ranch near Red Rock, about 28 miles to the south. In fact, Austin American Awning was started at the ranch in a barn before he moved it into the city. “My parents have been raising cattle on this small ranch for as long as I can remember,” he says.

High profile honor

His biggest job, though, has a more somber back story. He was involved in building the fabric awnings known as “light shelves” at the new Oklahoma City Federal Building that replaced the one that was bombed in 1995. Their bid for the work was selected when the company had only five shop employees.“It was an honor to work on this facility,” he says.

A Review reader

Among the benefits of IFAI membership, and he says there are “a lot” of them, is reading this magazine. “Reading the Review, I’ve learned about how large this industry really is,” he said. “You get to look at others’ projects and they generate new ideas.” Maybe one of those “new ideas” will be filling up a major theater screen sometime soon.

Jim Tarbox is editor of Marine Fabricator and contributes regularly to the Review.