PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If you live in Philadelphia, or have driven in or around the city, you many know his name, but you may never have seen his face. Lew Blum owns one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable towing companies, and he spoke with CBS3’s Greg Argos about what it took to start his business.
“I have to take you back to 1955 cause that’s when I was born,” said Blum.
Blum was born and raised by his grandfather in West Philadelphia. His grandfather also owned a tow truck company. Blum says even as a young boy, his grandfather brought him out in the truck.
“This is my love. This is my passion. This is my baby. This is my child. It’s 40 years old and it’s still maturing. This is what I do. This is what I love to do. I wouldn’t trade this for anything,” said Blum.
Blum has owned his own business for the past four decades, and he says he’s seen almost everything. He’s also been threatened in almost every way imaginable.
“We are cursed out every single day,” Blum said.
“We are threatened every single day. They’re going to blow the building up. They’re going to shoot the drivers. They’re going to kill me. They’re going to run me down if they can. They’ll find my family if they can. This is what I deal with. People who we tow,” he continued.
Blum’s towing empire is based out of an unassuming building in West Philadelphia. The lobby is no more than three feet wide, clad in metal sheets. Customers whose cars are towed must pay through a three-inch thick, bullet-proof glass window.
“They bang on the window. They spit on the glass. They call us all kinds of names,” said Blum.
Blum trains his employees to always remain calm, and never react to angry customers.
“I explain to (upset customers): You’re going to pay me to get your vehicle back. I’m happy to see you. I’m not mad at you. You parked illegally. You can get mad all you want. Call me all the names you want. Bottom line, you’re going to pay me to get your vehicle back,” explained Blum.
Blum does very little traditional marketing. Business or private homeowners who want to prevent illegal parkers can request a free sign. Some 5,000 hang all throughout the city, and until February of this year, Blum says business was booming.
In February, Philadelphia City Council passed a new ordinance requiring vehicles must be ticketed by police before being towed. The ordinance applies to vehicles parked in front of private property with valid tow signs.
“Has this bill hurt your bottom line?” asked Greg Argos.
“Yes, it has,” responded Blum.
“I would say our industry, who do parking lot and driveway enforcement, we are probably down 70 percent,” he continued.
Now Blum says he’s considering hanging up the tow hook.
“When I’m ready to retire, when I’m done with this, I’ll sell this business and hope that somebody keeps it going. I’ll sell the name, and the phone number,” he said.
But that does not mean Blum will be out of sight. He says he wants to run for city council as a council-member-at-large.
“I think I can make some changes in this city,” he said.
Blum said those changes include eliminating the soda tax. Instead, he would use part of the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s revenue to fund universal pre-kindergarten. He also would like to limit council terms to two. Blum says he knows it is an uphill battle, but it’s one he is ready to fight.
“’Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you, Lew Blum. Nobody is going to vote for you,’” Blum says as he recalls someone telling him when he mentioned he was going to run for city council.
“I said, ‘Well I’ve got about 5,000 signs out here with about 5,000 properties with my signs on it and there are about three generations living in those properties so I think I’ll get their votes.’”