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A Chat with Fred Pauli of Pauli's Wholesale Optics

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#1 Augustus

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 08:58 PM

A few days ago I drove upstate to talk with Fred Pauli, the former owner of Pauli's Wholesale Optics which was in business from 1978 to around 2003. Today, Fred still sells parts and a few scopes on eBay and his site astroptx.com, but by and large, most of his scope inventory is not listed for sale (or he's listed it at rather high prices so that it doesn't really sell, for reasons I'll explain in a bit). Fred's talked about on here occasionally mainly because of his large inventory of classic parts/accessories that he offers.

I went to buy some posters, but I also wanted to hear the full story of his business and what happened to it. Fred has not worked since his retirement from the astronomy biz and his abrupt disappearance left many people startled.

I'm no journalist, and I didn't take written notes, but this is my best attempt at, well, an interview, and I thought I’d post it here.

How'd you get started in astronomy?

"When I was a kid I always wanted one of those Unitron refractors, even if it was just the 60mm altaz models. Trouble was, those cost something like 180 bucks, and the minimum wage at the time had just been raised to $1 an hour. It was a lot of money. I ended up getting a... 50mm? tabletop refractor for Christmas, don't remember the brand. Something Japanese. We didn't have a table to use it on outside, so I remember using it, kneeling in the snow on the ground to look at Saturn. My mom called me inside one night and said 'You'll never make money off of telescopes!' - boy, was she wrong, and thankfully she lived long enough to see she was."

What was your involvement in the hobby like after that? And the business, how'd it start?

"Well, after a few years of that I sort of got busy with other stuff. Cars, girls, the kinds of things most teenage boys find themselves spending more time on than telescopes. When I was in my late twenties I remember going to the Griffith Observatory and looking through one of their big refractors. After that I bought a Celestron C8, one of the early ones with the holes in the forks. I think I spent more time looking at that thing then through it. I'd keep it in my closet all assembled and in the middle of the night I'd just turn my light on and admire the thing, or make sure it hadn't fallen over."

"I was still living with my parents at the time, working part-time as a draftsman for electrical systems. I recall doing some for a nuclear submarine. But I'd always wanted to be a salesman like my dad - he owned a sporting goods store - and it occurred to me I could sell telescopes."

"The business started out of my closet, but it grew and grew. I managed to get a dealer's license from almost everyone in the biz - Celestron, Meade, Criterion - later Bausch & Lomb. A lot of the smaller Japanese companies and importers were very easy to get into business with - they shared sales reps, so I had days where, for instance, I talked to a guy repping for Simmons and he ended up selling me on Tasco - though I tried not to sell much of the cheap junk stuff at my store if I could help it. The business lost money for the first few years, however, and I contemplated shutting it down, until the Halley hype arrived."

What did you think of Criterion?

"It actually took me a while to become a Criterion dealer - I was selling Celestrons and Meades for quite a while first. One funny thing that I noticed when I went to pick up stuff from them - their parking lot was all dirt, and you'd kick up huge clouds of it just walking around. I don't know why you'd ever want this near your optics shop."

"I mostly sold for Criterion after they got bought out by Bushnell which got bought very quickly by Bausch and Lomb. I never cared for the 4" and 8" SCTs. The optics were never that good in any of them, and the focusing system on some of the 8s I tried was never quite smooth. It made this strange grinding sound at times."

What about the B&L 8001? Was it really better?

"All they improved with the B&L 8001 was the mechanics. The optics being better is a myth. All that changed was that the drive got some upgrades and they switched it from the old Golden Pyramid to a tripod made by Davis & Sanford that Meade later bought for use with the 2080s."

Side note: I've personally used a 2080B on the D&S tripod, and while it's not as rock-solid as the Standard Field tripod (nor, I suspect, a Golden Pyramid), I didn't mind it either and the weight is much lower.

And the 6"?

"Criterion/B&L never marketed the 6" for the same reasons Celestron ultimately discontinued the C5. It required the same level of man-hours to make all the parts and the optics, so they were making far less profit or perhaps even losing money. As a result they didn’t sell that many of them and a lot more quality control seems to have gone into them.”

Fred has five B&L 6000s. One is in mint condition, never used or taken out of its case before he showed me - he’s asking $695 for it on his site. Three others are dusty and worn but could easily be cleaned up to brand new, and one more is in pretty good shape with the original tag. He wanted a similarly (albeit not quite as) high price for these and doesn’t have any more Golden Pyramids or wedges for any of them, so I passed. Would’ve bought one if it was a good deal.

What was it like with the Halley mania and your business?

“Unbelievable. Scopes were for sale at the grocery store, the rug store, you name it. People wanted to buy twice as many scopes as I could physically manage to sell them! My prior reputation led to a huge business boom. I hired some employees and bought a storefront/showroom in Danbury. I had a 5” Unitron and a C8 in different corners and all sorts of posters and banners up on the walls. Even after Halley, Hale-Bopp and others kept us going.”

Fred told me that he might’ve used the Unitron all of once, and that it was undermounted. He sold it a while ago.

“Once I was listed in INC Magazine’s list of 500 top growing American businesses. I was offered to attend an awards ceremony by the governor of…. Wisconsin? - I declined and told him that stuff like this was why I was one of the 500 top growing businesses. I’d wake up in the morning and take sales calls in the shower, then go to work, then come home and be on the phone till 10:00 and go to bed. I sold my motorcycle and my boat because I just didn’t have time for them. I didn’t get married till I was over 50.”

“I arranged for a 16” LX200 to be bought for the high school here in New Milford. Paid for shipping, they paid me back for the scope itself. They asked if I wanted a plaque on the telescope or anything, I said no. I was busy enough with clients and couldn’t handle the increased, local attention that the plaque would inevitably bring.”

I believe Fred mentioned buying the dome for them but I’m a little unclear. He also mentioned helping arrange for the installation of a C14 at Mattituck Community College, and the debacle of installing it on the roof, making it ADA-compliant, etc...

What led to the decline of your business?

“Sales went down in the late ‘90s, but I was still making money and working just as hard. But after the 2001 attacks I realized I wasn’t living my life to its fullest extent (note - I am paraphrasing a bit here, I don’t remember Fred’s exact words). I just…. closed. I wanted to actually live my life. Drive my Corvette somewhere other than work.”

“There was no going-out-of-business sale, no announcement, nothing. I just stopped advertising, closed the store, and put all the remaining inventory either in my basement or in the attic of the second house on the property here. If I recall correctly I still had $120,000 worth of merchandise when I closed.”

And since? What about observing?

Fred explained to me that he didn’t have time for observing for most of his career, and that he has retinitis pigmentosa. He’s been unable to use a scope for at least twenty years, and stopped driving a while ago due to his tunnel vision. He has trouble using his computer let alone a camera. For his eBay listings he holds the merchandise up to his iMac’s camera and wears a sweater as a background - this is why it’s hard, nearly impossible, for him to list the scopes.

“For a while I’d hire kids from the high school as secretaries - to help me take some inventory and sell things off… one girl helped me set up the website that I have now and PayPal and the eBay account. Eventually it became too odd to do that and now I just run things myself.”

(Paraphrasing a bit here):

“I’m in no rush to sell any of the scopes and stuff though, which is why you don’t see me listing them, and which is why I’m not very lenient on pricing. I’ve got a guy from Germany here on a business trip coming this month to pick up the Vixen 90mm Fluorite…. Other than that I don’t see anything else leaving anytime soon unless I make enough money for it to be really worth my time. I just went on a round-the-world cruise last year, I’ve got plenty of money, etc. - there’s a reason I don’t advertise and few people know about the website. The whole reason I quit was so I’d have more time.”

“Eventually, I will slow down, and I’ll have time and reason to figure out a plan for all this, but at the moment I’m quite fine with the way things are.”

Fred wasn’t able to show me most of his inventory of some 100-ish scopes in the attic of the guest house he’s currently renting out, due to said tenant being busy, but promises me he’ll let me have a look at a later date. Because it’s all in boxes, he himself doesn’t know exactly what is left.

Fred did show me his basement, though, and I took a few pictures - but none worthy of really showing. It’s like Santa’s workshop. Hundreds of clock drive motors (Fred tells me they’re for the Southern Hemisphere and thus he struggles to get rid of them). Three B&L 6-inchers on a shelf. A minty 2045. ETXes in the box. A bin of probably close to a thousand 20mm plastic Huygenian eyepieces. Piles of adapters, eyepieces, filters still in the boxes. A C8 and 2080 in mint condition (which are for sale, albeit at prices neither are really worth commanding). A custom-machined GEM he bought for display. Tripods. 60mm refractors. A dozen large mounts/scopes still in the original boxes. It was hard to even take everything in.

Do I know what the future holds for Fred Pauli and his inventory? Not really. Fred’s usually a rather reserved guy - I don’t recommend going and bugging him about anything not listed on his site or eBay that I’ve mentioned. At some point something will have to be arranged for the future of those scopes. But I trust him to figure that out, and he’s said that when he does decide he wants assistance he’ll give me a ring.

To finish, here’s a photo Fred sent me of himself in 1997 with that 5” Unitron.

Photo on 6-18-19 at 7.58 PM.jpg

Clear skies!

Edited by Augustus, 12 February 2020 - 01:39 PM.

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#2 jerahian

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 09:15 PM

Great write-up, Augustus!  Thanks for sharing waytogo.gif


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#3 oldmanastro

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 09:37 PM

Excellent. I bought a B & L 8000 from Fred back in 1993. It was the SCT I could afford. Like he says, they were optically inferior. Mechanically mine was ok. I tested mine besides a C8 and it was a no brainer, the C8 drew circles around the 8000. So I used the 8000 mostly for deep sky and variables until I sold it later in its Tuthill Isostatic mount. Just a couple of weeks ago I got a telescope part from Fred. He was very helpful and understanding when the part did not fit as expected. I do hope he keeps his parts business going. It was a pleasure to read his story.


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#4 telesonic

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 10:46 PM

That was a fascinating read through, and well-written too Mr. Z.

 

Very cool that you got to meet Fred, learn his background and also share it with us. Like some here... I've bought quite a few parts and pieces from him over the last couple years (learned of him via a post here in the classic forum) and he's always been helpful. Heck, he told me if I was ever in his neck of the woods, I was welcome to come on by his place, and even shared some solid advice that I will always remember. 

 

Good on 'ya for this.

T


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#5 Terra Nova

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 10:59 PM

Nice article Augustus. I really enjoyed reading it. I never met Fred in person but we wrote back and forth some a few years ago when I was first getting heavy into Unitrons. I remember him telling me about the 5” he owned and he sent me the same picture. I bought a few items from him. That was around the time I got the 4” 152. The last time I heard from him, he was getting ready to go on his round the world cruise and just kind of lost touch after that. I figured he was completely retired. He’s a very nice man. Please tell him I said hello.

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! I hope you had a wonderful day!
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#6 Augustus

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 10:59 PM

Nice article Augustus. I really enjoyed reading it. I never met Fred in person but we wrote back and forth some a few years ago when I was first getting heavy into Unitrons. I remember him telling me about the 5” he owned and he sent me the same picture. I bought a few items from him. That was around the time I got the 4” 152. The last time I heard from him, he was getting ready to go on his round the world cruise and just kind of lost touch after that. I figured he was completely retired. He’s a very nice man. Please tell him I said hello.

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! I hope you had a wonderful day!


Thanks, will do!

My birthday is actually tomorrow. CN is just glitching!
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#7 DSOs4Me

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 11:25 PM

Nice write up - Thanks for sharing AND Happy Birthday (in 25 minuted:)


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#8 deepwoods1

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 01:07 AM

Now it’s your Birthday! 


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#9 Kasmos

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 03:23 AM

Good job. Sounds like a good guy. I've bought a few things from him on ebay (most likely will buy more).

Not to be critical, I always wondered why such the dark photos in his listings?

Maybe you can suggest he wear a lighter colored sweat shirt. Perhaps a gray one.

Anyway, he always seems to have some interesting NOS stuff to tempt me.


Edited by Kasmos, 12 February 2020 - 03:27 AM.

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#10 Terra Nova

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 08:39 AM

Today’s your day Augustus! Have a great one!!

Attached Thumbnails

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#11 starman876

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 08:53 AM

I think a lot of us have bought gear from Fred.  Good guy. 


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#12 Defenderslideguitar

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 09:52 AM

Nice write up  Z.......and happy birthday.

 

 So yes   I used to talk to him when it was Pauli's optics in the early 80's. I saw his ad in Astronomy magazine back then and realized that he was not that far away from me.

He was at times very helpful and other times     eccentric and perhaps to  busy.

 I bought some odds and ends from him and never had a bad experience

 

There are times recently when I wish I shelled out the cash for the unopened  Vixen 90mmfl  a couple of months ago

 It was prisitne and NOS. It would have been a nice addtition to my flourites  but alas       cant have em all ...........

 

 

 

p.s.   we all enjoyed the interview / write up     why not do another interview / write up

you meet interesting folks all the time....Surely there might be someone to interview in Rockland county, NY   or do a couple of interviews when we are at Neaf

 

Speaking of Neaf    hope to see some of you folks there


Edited by Defenderslideguitar, 12 February 2020 - 11:40 AM.

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#13 combatdad

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 06:59 PM

Very interesting write-up, Augustus...and Happy Birthday!  

 

Did Fred ever say what happened to the 5 inch Unitron?

 

Dave


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#14 Mr Magoo

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 09:12 PM

That was a really cool thing to do Augustus. Thank you I enjoyed it!


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#15 Augustus

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 09:18 PM

Today’s your day Augustus! Have a great one!!

Nice write up  Z.......and happy birthday.

 

 So yes   I used to talk to him when it was Pauli's optics in the early 80's. I saw his ad in Astronomy magazine back then and realized that he was not that far away from me.

He was at times very helpful and other times     eccentric and perhaps to  busy.

 I bought some odds and ends from him and never had a bad experience

 

There are times recently when I wish I shelled out the cash for the unopened  Vixen 90mmfl  a couple of months ago

 It was prisitne and NOS. It would have been a nice addtition to my flourites  but alas       cant have em all ...........

 

 

 

p.s.   we all enjoyed the interview / write up     why not do another interview / write up

you meet interesting folks all the time....Surely there might be someone to interview in Rockland county, NY   or do a couple of interviews when we are at Neaf

 

Speaking of Neaf    hope to see some of you folks there

Very interesting write-up, Augustus...and Happy Birthday!  

 

Did Fred ever say what happened to the 5 inch Unitron?

 

Dave

Thank you everyone!

 

Fred told me he sold it. No clue as to whom. 

 

This experience actually has inspired me to do some more formal interviews and perhaps write a book or compilation of them. There are so many fabulous stories and folks that make up this hobby and I would like to do everything possible to preserve as many as I can.

 

I will be at NEAF, volunteering at the WAA booth for a decent chunk of both days.


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#16 grif 678

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 09:44 PM

I bought several items from Pauli's back in the 80's. You had to look pretty hard to find his ad, it was very small. But it seems that any ad with the word "wholesale" in it's name would get a bad rap, do not know why, it just seemed that way. His prices were a little lower than most, I guess because he did not have to pay a big price for a full sized ad.


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#17 grif 678

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 09:48 PM

Thanks for the interview. It would be interesting to her some more stories about people from the past that we remember, like Roger Tuthill, John Dobson, etc. Maybe someone has talked with Gary Hand recently and would like to share some things about him.


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#18 Paul Hyndman

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 10:02 PM

Great article.

 

The Unitron Fred had on display in his office seemed even more impressive in such a confined space. And yes, he had a very eclectic collection of odds and ends.

 

PS: Happy birthday, Zane!


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#19 Starsareus

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 10:31 PM

Good read! Have not talked with him in years.  Gary was riding his "Bike" ,still (forgot destination!).  My experiences were more of the Old School Companies. Spent many Saturdays at Criterion on Church street(Hartford). Got to know the Krewalks, was allowed to walk the floors for "extra" parts to buy for projects. You had to be careful going up the stairs on the building's side door-no light till I think the 2nd floor! Showroom was tiny.  Few years ago met Art in my home town. His company made the wood patterns for all the old Reflectors. Sadly all that is gone when he sold the Business. He is a nice guy and had some interesting Criterion stories. I think he moved to Florida?  

 

Also a nice person was Mr Edmund! I was a kid, but he talked to me for a while in his office about my Astronomy interests. Use to write to him after he retired until he passed away.   Still have my 3" white Reflector.  His son took over & changed their direction.  Too bad for us.

 

I was very lucky to know these people . Ah, the good ol days as they say!


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#20 Masvingo

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 01:25 PM

Great article, thanks for posting this.  I've bought a few hard to find bits from Fred over the years and always found him great to deal with.  I had always wondered what his story was so your article was most interesting.

 

Thanks again.


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#21 Bonco2

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 04:31 PM

Good job, very interesting article.
Thanks, Bill
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#22 highfnum

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 07:00 PM

finally got a chance 

well done!!!


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#23 rfic1

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Posted 15 February 2020 - 09:24 PM

The 5” Unitron was purchased by a college in Texas. 


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#24 Tim Hager

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Posted 19 February 2020 - 02:18 PM

Great write up Zane!  

 

I bought my Meade 1266 RG from Fred in 1985 (drop shipped from Meade).  That was my dream scope.  

 

As for the C14 at the community college, I didn't know they purchased that from Fred.  I used to teach the astronomy course there from 1998 to 2002 at night and despite the location on the roof, that scope had great optics and the views of the moon and the planets were really good.  Of course you could forget about any deep sky in the middle of Waterbury. 

 

Glad to hear that Fred is still kicking.


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