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Talking Shop: A Survivor’s Guide to Retailing on Main Street: Part 2

February 5, 2011

Main St. veterans Leonora Burton (l) and Marilyn Heberling

 ‘Mainstays of Main Street’ Leonora Burton and Marilyn Heberling continue discussion about how to make through winter and beyond

By Alison Rooney

The first part of this story dealt with the history of their entry into retailing, and about the marketing they do attract out-of-town visitors to Cold Spring.

Luring the locals
It may surprise locals, who sometimes consider the stores on Main Street as largely catering to tourists, that purchases by locals comprise a large percentage of sales. In fact, in the case of Country Goose, Leonora Burton estimates that 65 percent of her business is local (for Marilyn Heberling the figure is about 40 percent).  Both women rely on the local market to get them through winter, Burton saying “If you can appeal to the local population to support you in the cold months, the summer will take care of itself.”
       The eye-catching window displays at Art to Wear Too are re-done each week, to grab the attention of the many commuters who are among the store’s regular customers.  Marilyn also moves things around the interior of the story bi-weekly or so, and often hears an “Oh, is that new?” about an item which has just shifted location.  Marilyn also hosts many events at the store, meshing the design aspect of the merchandise with the many circles of painters, photographers and overall creative circle of this area.

Decorative items and racks of clothing at Art to Wear Too

       Leonora relies on what some feel is becoming an obsolete mode of communication: ye olde postcard.  She explains why: “When I was eight or nine years old, the most important thing in life was getting mail.  It reached the extent where I had a library book which I intentionally didn’t return on time because I wanted the overdue notice — a piece of mail.”  Unbeknownst to her, Leonora’s mother got the notice, took the book back to the library and paid the fine.  When she told Leonora about this, tears ensued, and the reason for keeping the book was revealed.  After Leonora’s mother learned of the (cue violins here”¦) she mailed Leonora a little something every day for a year. Inspired by this childhood full of glorious postal memories, Leonora “does mail.”  She has multiple clubs affiliated with the goods Country Goose stocks, so there’s the Ugly Doll Club, the Groovy Girl Club, the Coffee Club, the Tea Club, the Kitchen Club etc., and members receive mailings, purchase incentives and sometimes party invitations.  Leonora has embraced the new frontiers of online commerce and social media as well, with a regularly updated Facebook page, a blog, and a website which is being fine-tuned with a big launch expected shortly.  Leonora’s other business, Highland Baskets, which serves both locals and non-locals, including many corporate clients, already has a website. 

Active in the community
As with all of the merchants of Philipstown, both store owners are often approached for donations of gift certificates in support of community fundraising activities. The economic downturn makes it more difficult to keep donating, but every time that Marilyn hesitates, she decides to continue giving them out, explaining “When things are not good I think maybe I can’t give a gift certificate, but then I think no — I’ve always done that and I can’t stop now.” Leonora adds, “gift certificates are good because your name is in the program, and sometimes people come and spend more than the value of the certificate, or they spend exactly what is on it, but then they come back.”
       Crucial to both women’s success are their outgoing, friendly personalities.  For Leonora, conversations are often rooted in “little stories.  I have recipes in hand, and [if a customer is looking at a particular item] I can say ‘this goes well with that.  My husband retired and I can make him things in that baking dish that he can just pop in the oven and have for lunch.’  It’s turning a little story into something you’ve got for sale.”   No doubt that resident dog, Tara, a sweetheart of a black Lab, and Leonora’s

Tara helps mind the shop at Country Goose

unmistakable Welsh accent (seemingly intact to these non-trained ears despite her 43 years in the U.S.) add to the cozy zen of the Goose and that “I wasn’t going to buy anything but now I want to” feeling.
       That when to approach, when to leave alone intuition is something which Marilyn has perfected through the years. “Nine out of ten times when you walk into my store, you buy something.  I love people.  I love to chat.  I get lots of men telling me ‘you’re the most fun to talk to—I’ll let my wife come back!’  I can read people just from saying hello.  Do I go right up to them or stay back and wait? Each person is different.” 

Businesses come and go
With so many years on ‘the street’ Leonora and Marilyn have seen many businesses come and go; many dreams dashed.  What advice do they offer to that next person who comes to town, is charmed by it and thinks he or she has the perfect little business to which everybody will flock?  Both have a similar, emphatic, answer: “You don’t just sit in your store.” “You’re always working; you can’t just sit and watch.” Leonora suggests prospective owners make multiple, reconnaissance visits: “They come on a weekend, see a lot of traffic, think they can make it.  They need to come mid-week, come at all hours, come in different weathers.  One man recently came for seven months and did research.  He did a wonderful job of checking things out.  Be prepared for the unexpected, and figure it out.”  To which Marilyn adds, “Bob and weave.”
       Marilyn addresses the type of business: “Make sure you have something that isn’t already on every block.  Have the capital to get through tough times.  Factor in the snow.  In 21 years here, two on my own, we’ve never not done okay.  We keep on trying.  We’ve been on every organization, every committee.  Both Leonora and I get on everything—every new avenue.  I am an event person.  Tying lots of businesses into things like Fashion and Home Design Week. I was president of the Chamber of Commerce for three years, and we were always trying something.  We go through ups and downs.  Our newest avenues are smaller scale, and we invite everyone to join us.” Leonora is trying to produce a monthly flyer, offering specials, to go into all of the restaurants and hotels up the Route 9 corridor into Fishkill, trying to draw those regional visitors who might be passing through the area briefly, to Cold Spring.
       As business owners and local residents, they are keenly aware of the importance that revenue-raising retail establishments play in this town, both fiscally and in giving the town an identity. “If you let the commercial side go, I don’t know what people think will happen,” says Leonora.  Marilyn is appreciative of the extra funding provided by the county, based on revenue, which has been directed to extra trash pick-up assistance. 

What’s new?
So what’s new at the Goose and at Art To Wear Too?  There’s a new “Handmade in Philipstown” section at the Goose, filled with sketches, books, ornaments, local biscotti, honey and more.  According to Marilyn, Art to Wear Too “has much more of a variety of things than it used to.  It used to be more company-oriented; now there are more accessories and gift items.  I have scarves hand-painted by school teachers.  I try to find things that are different.”

The shelves are filled with goodies at Country Goose

With all of their years as “mainstays,” Philipstown.info was curious about what long-time customers might not know about Marilyn and Leonora.  So, the next time you stop by their stores, ask Marilyn about the time she was dressed up as a nun — at Denny’s — and Leonora about all of the romance novels she has authored, or her single-engine plane crash, and you’ll learn something you probably never knew before! 

Art to Wear Too is located at 75 Main Street, and the phone is 845-265-4469.  Winter hours are Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; summer hours are every day, noon to 6 p.m. 

Country Goose, at 115 Main Street, phone 845-265-2122, is open seven days a week, from 10:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. The website for Highland Baskets is http://www.highlandbaskets.com/

As a final note, after providing these details, Leonora has one last instruction for potential shop owners:  Post Your Hours and Keep Your Hours!
Photos by A. Rooney

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3 Responses to Talking Shop: A Survivor’s Guide to Retailing on Main Street: Part 2

  1. Charles E. Hustis III

    February 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    It is a true blessing that we have both Leonora and Marilyn here with us in our community. They are both a true treasure for all to be proud of. I am blessed to know both of them.

  2. Kathleen

    February 10, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    I so enjoyed this article….ladies: hats off to both of you!!!!

  3. Sarah Geer

    February 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    A great article about 2 great ladies!