Local merchants upbeat about Margaretville business
By Julia Green
During World War II, the British government designed a series of “motivational” posters with the intention of distributing them to boost public morale in anticipation of the hardship that would befall the region during the war. The first and second were distributed and used across the region but the third was never released, as it was intended to be used only if the Nazis succeeded in invading Britain.
The slogan? “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
That sentiment – or one similar – appears have been adopted by local merchants and entrepreneurs, as an influx of new and improved businesses in the area suggests that despite what may or may not be taking place on Wall Street, Main Street is still fighting.
And as the shopping craze of the holiday season draws near, local merchants are hoping that good tidings and cheer toward men (or at least toward those on shoppers’ gift lists) will provide an added spark to the local economy.
Designer brands, discounted prices
Marc Levenshus, who owns and operates Foothills Shoe Co., has opened three more businesses along Main Street in Margaretville since March. Red Sparrow Clothing Company, Portfolio Café and The Village Valet are all in the Margaretville Commons building, and Levenshus said business has been steady.
“It’s very, very positive in all aspects,” Levenshus said of feedback from patrons. “Customers like shopping in the stores; they like our presentation, our prices, the look of the stores. We get a lot of repeat customers and visitors think our stores match up very well to what they might find at Woodbury Commons or in larger metropolitan areas.”
Red Sparrow, which opened the last weekend in March, is a clothing store that Levenshus said was a “natural extension” of the Foothills Shoe Store.
“We had a limited apparel offering at the shoe store when we opened in October of 2008, and as the business grew we felt the time had come to expand on apparel as well as provide more space for the footwear,” he said.
And, with the new space, Levenshus was able to bring in nationally recognized vendors, including Columbia Sportswear, Ray Ban sunglasses, Izod sportswear and Wrangler jeans.
“We are constantly in the market and attending trade shows in an effort to bring up-to-the-minute fashion for men and women that’s very reasonably priced – a must for this area.”
A coffee fix from a bird’s eye view
Two stories above Main Street, Portfolio Café opened the second week in November in a space that once hosted yoga classes and salsa lessons.
“The concept with Portfolio Café was to create a space in Margaretville where people can come to relax, meet friends or business associates, and enjoy a cup of fine coffee, a cappuccino, or have a light lunch or snack on our fine pastries, all in a comfortable, living room-like setting,” Levenshus said.
The café also features free Wi-Fi, which customers can use to work through lunch or catch up on e-mails, and furnishings that include an eclectic mix of antiques and a burning fireplace. It is open Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“What makes the Portfolio Café a compelling destination is the attention we pay to the quality and presentation of our food offerings,” he added. “Since I’m new to the food business and the learning curve is steep, it was important to utilize local vendors whose quality and taste my customers would approve of and return for more. It was a time-consuming process, and a lot of tastings, but we feel, even at this early stage, that we have chosen well.”
The Village Valet
Winter is on the doorstep, and at last, Margaretville residents no longer need to drive 45 minutes to have their sweaters dry-cleaned, thanks to The Village Valet, a drop-off dry cleaning service located within The Red Sparrow.
“Since there are no dry cleaners within a 45-minute drive, it just made sense to aggregate other people’s dry cleaning from the area and make one trip, rather than have individuals make two trips to pick up and drop off to either Kingston or Delhi,” Levenshus said.
The Village Valet works with American Cleaners in Kingston, and for most of the year customers can drop off dry cleaning at the Red Sparrow before Tuesday and have it back by Friday. During the winter months, one run a week means clothing returns the following Friday.
Levenshus, while aware of the recent downturn of the national economy, wasn’t scared away from undertaking his new business endeavors.
“First of all, I don’t think our region has been as affected by the downturn, and we certainly didn’t participate in the bubble as much either,” he said. “It also makes space that much more affordable today than it might be in better economic conditions. But sooner or later, better economic conditions are going to return. You also have to identify certain needs in the community. The shoe store, the clothing store, the café, and the drop-off service are all needs we have identified. We think the community needed these things, and we brought them.
“There seems to be a positive buzz in Margaretville, with what’s going on with Freshtown and the new stores that have been opening up,” he added. “There seems to be a lot more visitors, and customers coming from outside villages are saying, ‘I can’t believe what’s happening in Margaretville; it seems to be going through a renaissance.”
If it ain’t broke...
Adam Johnson, who with his brother Matt recently bought DeBari’s Flooring, admitted that he was somewhat apprehensive about undertaking such an endeavor in the light of the current economic climate.
“It’s reflected here,” Johnson said of the store, of which he and Matt became owners at the start of the month. “It’s not as busy as it’s been in the past, or as I was hoping it would be, but it has been steady for the most part, and so hopefully it will pick up as things continue to come around.”
DeBari’s, which has been in business since 1969, specializes in flooring, particularly hardwood, vinyl, carpet and laminate, and Johnson said they have plans to add ceramic tile. The hardwood flooring is a recent addition as well, but Johnson said the changes to the business will likely end there.
“We’re not going to change the name, the phone number stays the same, the same installer is still here, as well as Gerard and Corine helping us out on a consulting basis,” he said. “We’d like to preserve the institution that has been DeBari’s since 1969. Customers can expect the same level of service and great selection of products that have been here all along.”
“Just Shop” owner optimistic
Just Shop, the clothing and accessories boutique on Main Street owned and operated by Mercedes Gonzalez, offers designer apparel for men, women and children at 60 to 80 percent off retail prices.
Sara Amrani, who does purchasing for Gonzalez, said that the economic dip does not appear to have adversely affected the shop, which is in its third year of business.
“I believe the store’s doing better this year than it was last year,” Amrani said. “It seems like everyone’s still shopping there.”
She added that Gonzalez is positive about both the state of her own business as well as the shape of Margaretville business in general.
“She is really positive about the town,” Amrani said. “She likes to do anything she can to support them and work with them to better the community and obviously everyone’s been affected by the recession but she’s noticed that a lot of people are adapting to the way people are shopping now, and that’s kind of the most important thing.”