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Middle Country Public Library in Centereach hosted the 19th annual Women’s EXPO on Oct. 3. Thousands came out to kick off their holiday shopping at the one-day event presented by the Middle Country Library Foundation and the library’s Miller Business Center.

More than 80 women entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to introduce their products, which included jewelry, children’s books, soaps, candles, chocolate, fall crafts, clothing and much more. Fifth Season restaurant offered lunch in the EXPO Café. 

This year’s lead sponsor was Bank of America. The event was also sponsored by Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP of Ronkonkoma; People’s Alliance Federal Credit Union; BankUnited; TD Bank; Jefferson’s Ferry; and the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce. Vendors interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to visit www.womensExpoli.org. See more photos of the event at www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Holly Hunt

Gloria Vanderbilt said, “I always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.”

We see this in action every year at the annual Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. This year’s event will be held on Thursday, Oct. 3 and will feature 82 exhibitors.

Not just a craft show, the Women’s EXPO brings together some of Long Island’s great women entrepreneurs and business professionals to network, collaborate … and SHOP!

While only one day, the work of the EXPO continues all year at the Miller Business Center. Bank of America has been the EXPO’s Signature Sponsor since its inception 19 years ago.

“We’re proud to be back this year as the presenting sponsor of the Women’s EXPO, which provides women entrepreneurs the power to grow their business, attract new customers and showcase their talent,” said Bob Isaksen, Bank of America Long Island market president. “Collaborating with the library in support of these local women-owned small businesses fosters a healthy economy and creates opportunity for all.”

“Seeing the women talking with each other and connecting” is Miller Business Center coordinator Elizabeth Malafi’s favorite part of the event. With items such as soaps, candles, food, jewelry, pottery and home decor, there is something for everyone.

“All are welcome to soak in the excitement of the day,” says library director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips. “The energy at the library on EXPO day is wonderful for everyone who visits.”

Below are just a few of the women entrepreneurs you will meet at this year’s event:

Alegna Soap

Angela Carillo

Angela Carillo really loves soap. Her love for soaps started in childhood when she would look forward to vacations, so she could visit gift shops to see what kinds of soap they carried. Carillo has been making soap for 20 years and once she put her kids and husband through college she turned her hobby into a successful business. Alegna Soap was born 10 years go with three focuses — retail, private label and workshops/conferences. Carillo says that having a diverse focus allows the business to always be steady.

The lasting connections and collaborations of the EXPO have been invaluable to Carillo. “It’s a totally different event than any other I do,” she says. Over the many years she has been participating, Carillo has communicated and collaborated with several of the other women entrepreneurs, including other soap vendors. In addition to the EXPO, Carillo takes advantage of the offerings of the Miller Business Center. Most recently attending Instagram for Business where she learned about using the story feature and promptly began using it on her business Instagram account.

Simply Nicki Supreme Nut Butters

Nicki Gohorel

Nicki Gohorel moved to Istanbul with her husband and was surprised that, while there were plenty of delicious nuts, there were no nut butters. In 2013, she started making her own and gave some as gifts. They were so delicious, friends encouraged her to sell them and Simply Nicki was born.

Gohorel creates nut butters with a focus on high-quality ingredients. Her most popular flavor is Peanut Butter Supreme, which includes amino acids to help the body process the protein in the peanuts more efficiently. What makes Simply Nicki stand out from other nut butters is the variety of flavors and customization capabilities. A traveler, Gohorel has “a mental Rolodex of flavors” that she loves to combine in what some may think are strange ways. Another popular flavor, Almond Supreme, contains almonds, goji berries, nutmeg and sea salt. Not your average nut butter!

But she is not just passionate about flavors and nut butters. Simply Nicki nut butters are packaged with as little paper or plastic as possible at the Made Conscious Kitchen in Cutchogue. This eco-friendly, cooperative kitchen allows small, local entrepreneurs to work together and as Gohorel put it,”lift each other up.”

Holly Hunt Photography

Holly Hunt

Holly Hunt grew up surrounded by photos taken by her grandfather, a professional who photographed the likes of Kennedy and the Beatles. It’s no surprise that his work inspired her to pick up a camera and take up photography. Hunt didn’t intend for her explorations of abandoned places to go past the walls of her own home, but after gifting photos to friends and family, she received encouragement to share them. And it’s no wonder, as her haunting works of art create a beautiful story of forgotten places.

“I was a patron of the EXPO for many years but I never expected to be an exhibitor. I never thought I was good enough,” she said. Thankfully, that didn’t stop her from applying in 2018. Hunt sold most of the inventory she brought to that first EXPO. More importantly were the connections she made with other women. She met so many other entrepreneurs and business professionals. The EXPO even helped organically grow her social media platforms, a hard thing to do these days. She’s looking forward to showing her new work at this year’s event.

From the Page

Callie Meaney

Callie Meaney’s mom loves candles. Growing up, they were always in her house. They became a hobby for Meaney and then a business. With all the candles available on the market she knew hers would need a unique twist. Since she loves to read, Meaney gravitated toward book-themed candles and From the Page was born. With a permanent collection of about 20, each season she introduces new scents. Top sellers right now are Magic Pumpkin Patch and Sleepy Hollow. Each natural soy candle comes in a reusable jar and each label has a picture that has been hand-drawn by Meaney herself.

She is looking forward to her first EXPO so she can meet other women entrepreneurs and business professionals. Before starting in 2013, Meaney had no business experience and hopes to hear other’s stories. As she’s hoping to expand to wholesale as well as a retail location, the knowledge she gains at the event will be invaluable.

Precise Gluten Free Foods

Mayra Robayo

We’ve all heard the proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but how many of us actually put it to practice? Mayra Robayo does. After her daughter was diagnosed with an allergy to gluten, Robayo began making everything from scratch. But her son wanted good pancakes and the gluten-free ones she was making weren’t cutting it. After a lot of experimentation with different mixes, she created a pancake her son liked. Knowing how hard it is for families dealing with food allergies, she started Precise Gluten Free Foods in 2018 to share the mix with others. Robayo is off and running. In spring 2019, she added an oatmeal cookie mix to the line. Her mixes are gluten, nut, allergy and chemical free and can be found at local stores.

Even though this is Robayo’s first time exhibiting at the EXPO, she has been utilizing the resources available at the Miller Business Center for the past several months. Recently, she attended Grow Your Business with Google and learned that even without a retail location she could create a Google business page. Robayo says this doubled traffic to her website.

Kick off your holiday shopping at the 19th annual Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach on Thursday, Oct. 3, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free and there is ample parking. Lunch from the Fifth Season Restaurant will be available for purchase in the EXPO Café. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393, ext. 296, or visit www.womensEXPOli.org.

All photos by Elizabeth Malafi

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Holiday shopping started off on the right foot in the Three Village area.

The Bates House in Setauket was filled with shoppers looking to get a head start on their holiday shopping Nov. 13. TBR News Media hosted a private shopping experience at the venue where local retailers and service-based businesses offered attendees discounts on products and services as well as pre-wrapped items ideal for gift giving.

The event was sponsored by The Bates House, Simple Party Designs, Empire Tent Rental & Event Planning and Elegant Eating. Retailers and businesses included Ecolin Jewelers, Hardts and Flowers, DazzleBar, Blue Salon & Spa, East Wind, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Chocolate Works, Three Village Historical Society, East End Shirt Co., Signs by All Seasons, Nicole Eliopoulos of State Farm, The Rinx, Stony Brook Vision World and Rite-Way Water Solutions.

Special thanks to musicians Steve Salerno and Tom Manuel for performing at the event.

EXPO shoppers. Photo by Miranda Gatewood

Fall brings with it a chill in the air, pumpkin spice everything and the Women’s EXPO at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.

A recent study by American Express shows that between 1997 and 2017, the number of women-owned businesses increased at a rate 2.5 times higher than the national average with many of these businesses being run by creative women from their homes and studios. 

The annual Women’s EXPO, now in its 18th year, celebrates these women by connecting them with their peers, local business women and potential customers. This year’s event will be held on Thursday, Oct. 4 and will feature 83 exhibitors. 

“Our favorites are back along with a great selection of new women entrepreneurs just starting out,” said Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of the library. 

With a diverse group of entrepreneurs, there is something for everyone. Shoppers can find items such as jewelry, pottery, handbags and home decor. Serlis-McPhillips reminds us that the EXPO is much more than a trade show. “The library’s Miller Business Center works with these and other entrepreneurs all year, educating them on business topics and offering them ample opportunities to network with business professionals from throughout Long Island.” 

Here are some of the great women entrepreneurs you can meet at this year’s event:

Victoria Collette

Victoria Collette

According to Victoria Collette, she is in the business of empowering women. She started her fragrance company, POP SCENTsation, which allows shoppers to create their own fragrance; in the process they get to “discover what it means to be their unique self.”

Since launching, Collette has expanded to 23 fragrances and recently added Perfume Creation Kits. Participating in last year’s EXPO helped her get the word out about her new company and she is excited to be a part of this year’s event. “The energy of the day, being surrounded by and meeting so many amazing women entrepreneurs is incredible.”

Linda Johnson

Linda Johnson

Linda Johnson has always been a maverick, living outside the box. Her dream of owning her own business came to fruition in 2014 with Chocology, which was born out of her family’s “love of chocolate paired with a passion for learning and sharing.” The chocolate and fudge are delicious but, more importantly, it is sold with excitement and education. Beyond her businesses she created #ChocologyCares, supporting charities such as American VetDogs and Stony Brook Cancer Center.

Johnson’s commitment to community and supporting other entrepreneurs can be seen in her new venture — the Three Village Artisan and Farmers Market in Setauket, a gathering place bringing people together. This support and community is also what keeps Johnson coming back to the EXPO. “I love the camaraderie, I love the women and I learn so much!”    

Carly McAllister 

Carly McAllister

After Carly McAllister’s son developed eczema, she became concerned about the ingredients in store-bought soaps and started making her own using organic ingredients. McAllister gave extra bars to friends and family who told her it was so good she should sell it. Encouragement from her husband Michael and others resulted in Modern Primal Soap Co., whose goal is to make products that are as natural as possible. 

Having been an EXPO shopper for years McAllister (top photo) was excited to join the event as an exhibitor. ”I would love to be able to participate and applied as soon as I could.”  She is looking forward to another successful show. “The EXPO is something really special! I love being in a room with so many smart, talented women! The fellowship between the participants is amazing.”

Angelique Velez

Angelique Velez

A bad breakup didn’t slow down Angelique Velez; in fact, it was the impetus for Breakups to Makeup, her company that sells travel makeup clutches, T-shirts and tanks featuring motivational and inspirational words. Velez  (photo on right) realized that makeup inspires and lifts people up. “Making other people feel better inevitably helped to lift my spirits,” she said. Breakups to Makeup’s first slogan Love Raised Me, Lipstick Saved Me “encompassed everything I had been going through and showcased the importance of makeup in our lives as artists.” Since its inception, her products have been sold in major stores like Sephora and have been featured in InStyle, Refinery29 and Latina.

Velez is looking forward to her first time exhibiting at the EXPO. “Anything that supports women and women-owned business is very important to me. The fact that this also caters to Long Island businesses is something unique as well and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

The annual Women’s EXPO will take place on Thursday, Oct. 4, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd, Centereach. Admission is free and there is ample parking. For further information, call the library at 631-585-9393, ext. 296 or visit www.womensEXPOli.org.

Small business owners like Marion Bernholz, who owns The Gift Corner, above, are trying to find ways to compete with big box stores. Photo by Marion Bernholz

By Kyle Barr

For 40 minutes each morning when Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, opens her shop she lugs out all the product she keeps on the front porch all by herself. She does it every day, hoping the colors and interesting items will flag down cars traveling on North Country Road.

Thanksgiving day she was closed, but on Black Friday she put out her flags, signs, decorations, not expecting many customers at all, she said. Black Friday is perceived as a day for gaudy sales for the bigger stores with nationwide brands, or the Amazons of the world, though it has become just the appetizer for a weekend synonymous with shopping.

Ecolin Jewelers in Port Jefferson is co-owned by Linda Baker. Photo from Linda Baker

Instead, people flooded Bernholz’s store the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the customers kept streaming in even after Black Friday was days passed.

“We were busy on Friday, way busier than we had been since the bust, when the economy went down,” Bernholz said, beaming with excitement. “Wednesday was a spike. Friday was a major spike. It was so busy Saturday that people couldn’t find parking. There was a line out the door.”

At Elements of Home, a home and gift shop in St. James less than 12 miles from Gift Corner, the situation was different. Owner Debbie Trenkner saw Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday float by with only a small bump in sales, she said.

Though she advertised, Trenkner said that she only received a moderate boost in sales that weekend with only 27 people walking through her door on Black Friday, and only about 70 Saturday when she said she expected to see hundreds.

“After speaking to other retailers or feeling through the grapevine, all major events this year, Mother’s Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, we’ve done half the amount we’ve done in the past,” she said. “People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone, it’s their lifeline, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate because this is what communities are based on.”

“People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone.”

Debbie Trenkner

The similar local stores had polar opposite experiences during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season, though businesses overall this past Small Business Saturday, an event first sponsored by American Express in 2010, did very well though they fell short of 2016 numbers in total. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 108 million consumers spent $12.9 billion Nov. 25.

Despite the slight dip from 2016, the data shows a much higher number of consumers are making the conscious decision to shop locally on the biggest spending date of the year for small businesses.

Stacey Finkelstein, an associate professor of marketing at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview she has used psychological and behavioral economics to inform people about marketing problems, and she said a battle between instant gratification and the desire to support local stores is being waged for today’s consumers.

“Another tension for a lot of consumers who face this dilemma layered on top of this is this ethical quandary, which is ‘I want to support businesses that are consistent with my code of ethics and the values that I have as a consumer,’” Finkelstein said.

That value-based sales pitch is important, especially when it comes to the services offered. Many local businesses surveyed after this Black Friday weekend across the North Shore agreed the services they provide, whether it’s free gift wrapping or the ability to make a custom product, or even the ability to offer hands-on help to customers trying to figure out what gift is best, are the types of factors that neither online nor most large stores can match.

Fourth World Comics in Smithtown. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think the most important thing to do besides creating an emotional experience and offering, obviously, great service is to really think about the values of those consumers in the local town and try and tap into those local values, such as if a town is really interested in sustainability, or ethically sourced food,” Finkelstein said.

One of the biggest questions that small business owners ask is whether young people are still willing to shop local. The consensus is they are the “plugged-in” generation, but that fact can be harnessed to work in favor of small business owners.

“Social issues are particularly important for a lot of millennials,” she said. “You tend to see a lot of that. I definitely don’t think millennials should be written off. I’m big into knitting, and if you ask what’s the stereotype for knitting, for example, is that grandmas knit, but actually there’s this active and large youthful contingent of knitters that are really driving and shaping that industry in a completely fascinating way. I think what it’s about is that millennials have these ethically laden values where they want to buy things that are local, that are environmentally sustainable.”

While many stores surveyed said this Black Friday weekend was “better than average” to “great,” there were several stores that did not see anywhere near the same boost in traffic. While the weather was nice, stores that didn’t meet expectations cited insufficient support from their local governments, or locations with little foot traffic, as their main deterrents.


Reactions from local store owners

Port Jefferson—Ecolin Jewelers

Co-owner Linda Baker:

We tend to run our sales to support our loyal customers, support our repeat customers. We had 20 percent off many items in the store, not all. That hasn’t been a big motivation to shop. In our industry
either they know us or they don’t.

The village was decorated nice and we had a good weekend. Black Friday for most retailers, for independent mom-and-pop retailers, has not been a big day for us. Our business is the last two weeks of the year. I think Black
Friday is when mom and dad go to look at televisions or cars — one big
purchase. It’s not a downtown thing. I don’t compare same day to same day from years before. I think there are too many variables, whether it’s the weather
or the news. Though I’d say this year was better than last year across the board.

Mount Sinai—The Gift Corner

Owner Marion Bernholz:

I don’t think Black Friday is as big of a thing anymore. We had people coming in at 10 a.m. and I asked them why they weren’t out shopping and they would say, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” I think people just don’t like to rush anymore, plus all the deals are available all week long, so there’s almost no point. Maybe, eventually, people will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family, that’s the hope.

Though this was one of the best Black Fridays I’ve had since the bust in 2008, I went back and I looked at the papers for how it was in 2005. I couldn’t count it all — it was like the funds were flowing like water. It’s never
going to be 2005 again.

Half the people who came in my store on Saturday had no clue [about Small Business Saturday]. We’d be like, “OK, now we’ll explain it to you. Good that you’re here, and this is what it’s about.”

Rocky Point—Rocky Point Cycle

Owner Gary Wladyka:

We didn’t advertise but had in-store deals. We had discounts on shoes and sunglasses. There were more customers that Friday because more people had Friday off.

We’re always trying to get more customers, but we’re more of a
destination shop rather than a “Let’s go take a look” type thing.

This is the beginning of the end for small business. It’s going to continue to demise with people wanting to do
everything on the internet. The way new consumers are, it’s going to be hard to grow it. We try to provide service. You’re not going to get service online.

Setauket—All Seasons at Ari’s Treasures

Owner Jeff Aston:

We have an online presence. We did very well online over the course of the weekend. The store was busy. I’m a Christmas shop, so it’s kind of the height of our season now. We were offering 20 percent off storewide, we had some 25 percent-off items, some 50 percent-off items. We definitely went along with trying to capture that audience.

We do custom sign making and engraving, and it’s a little more of a custom product. I’m not sure how Black Friday helped us with that part of the business, but overall it was a good weekend. I’d say it was comparable to last year.

People want personalization, they want customization. You have to see the expression on people’s faces when they see our work. I’ve been in the Christmas business for 40 years, and I’ve never done anything more rewarding for my customers than what I’m doing now.

Young people today push a button and they get what they want. I’ve gotten away from the similar product you will see on Amazon. The beauty of the internet is that we can put our product out online. We’re on Etsy, and for the small business person who’s creating something themselves, Etsy is the way to go.

Smithtown—4th World Comics

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Smithtown

4th World Comics (Comics, figurines and memorabilia)

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Northport—Einstein’s Attic

Owner Lori Badanes:

“We did great, it was wonderful. We offered a lot of in store promotions. We had an Elf on a Shelf here, we read a story to the kids and the kids got a notebook and a pencil. They got to fill out a wish list, then all the kids got to make an ornament. We had giveaways, and make your own putty on Saturday.

We started planning this in the summer, back in August. We do it every year.

We did better this year than other years — 17 percent better. It was a nice jump. One thing is that we offered some light ups for an outdoor event. The kids got a lot of things to take home. I feel we’re a community-based business, and we support our community every chance we get.”

Huntington—Cow Over the Moon

Owner Brian Drucker:

“I feel like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, definitely did better than previous years. I didn’t do any specific specials that I can think of offhand.

It was a mixture of new people and regulars coming through. The big thing about a store like this being here for 23 years is that we have a steady number of regulars, but I saw a good crop of new customers come in.

One of the things I also do is sports memorabilia, and Aaron Judge [who plays for the New York Yankees] is one of the hottest, hottest things in the world. He had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever in baseball, so we sold a bunch of Aaron Judge autographed memorabilia, some pretty expensive stuff.

It’s hard to explain … why we did well. You never can tell you know, there was just a lot of people walking around. The town  was pretty booming.”