The holidays are coming, and that means gift shopping. While many residents will turn to the internet, filling virtual shopping carts with a wide range of goods and watching the brown boxes pile up on their front stoop, Merrick’s business community is bustling, with a Chamber of Commerce comprised of nearly 150 small businesses — including eateries, clothing outlets, specialty goods and much more — all available just a few blocks away.
After getting through one of the busiest weekends of the year — Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — three of Merrick’s storeowners spoke with the Herald Life about how they pull ahead in a globalized economy.
Queen of Hearts
“Twenty-six years of expertise” is what Queen of Hearts owner Julie Marchesella boasts about her business. It’s one of the only plus size dress outlets for women in the area, she said, making her store “a specialty within a specialty.”
“It’s so much better to come into a boutique” for clothing needs, said Marchesella, who is a past president of both the Merrick Chamber of Commerce and the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce. “It’s all about that one-on-one, personalized shopping experience.”
Marchesella said she has full control over the products she offers, as most of the dresses are American made and manufacturers are only a phone call away. There are already hundreds of dresses lining her Merrick Avenue store.
And while her business does not rely on it, Marchesella maintains an online presence for Queen of Hearts. Her website is filled with the business owner modeling the dresses, and advertisements can be seen throughout social media.
“People know they’re paying for my expertise,” Marchesella said.
For the duo that owns J&D Invitations, online competition is the biggest hurdle to overcome.
“As a local business, we offer good products and personal service — which can’t be offered online,” said Janet, one half of J&D.
A Merrick business since 1983, J&D offers custom invitations for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, engagements, graduations, birthdays and more in a “comfortable, down-to-earth atmosphere,” their website reads.
J&D was not always the only party-invitational-planning outlet in Merrick, though. Earlier this year, Have You Heard, another small business offering similar services shuttered, according to Marchesella. Its owner had fought for fair treatment between online and local retailers for nearly two decades.
“It’s very sad,” Janet said. “Competition makes you better. Now we’re thinking, of course, it could happen to us, so we have to try even harder.”
The personal touch is one of the business’s main attractions, Janet said. Besides receiving professional guidance, she said, nearly every customer also gets a special discount.
“We actually love what we do,” she said. “We love being creative.”
Scott Russ Music
Scott Russ says his business is one of the few “old school” music stores left on Long Island. Not only does competition come from online retailers, but other music store chains as well.
When a customer leaves Scott Russ music, however, they walk out with a quick but deep education on their new instrument. Whether it’s the right strings for a new guitar or a perfectly adjusted violin, Russ has the know-how. “You can’t buy [our] service elsewhere,” he said.
The 20-year family-owned and operated business aims to give visitors a “musical experience” when they see its dozens of instruments and memorabilia from famous musicians. Russ’s knowledge extends to the unusual, too, shown by the large harp sitting in the corner of the shop.
Scott Russ Music also helps supply equipment for local students, and every child that visits gets their own lesson on care and maintenance for new instruments. Customers sometimes get instruments elsewhere but will go to Russ for adjustments, all backed by “honest” advice.
“To compete these days is really difficult,” Russ said. “But I have a passion for this.”