Talking Shop

IT TAKES GUTS AND VISION TO BUILD A BRICK-AND-MORTAR BUSINESS in an Amazon-centric world. But these five extraordinary Greenwich women have done just that. As a result, their first-generation, female-run stores have changed the face of retail at a local level. Despite differences in their backgrounds and ages, each of these women share distinct similarities in their approach to business and life: They all developed a passion for sales at an early age; they all nurtured that passion into a viable business plan; and most important, they care deeply for their customers and their community. Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, these small business owners offer something Amazon can’t—a human connection—reminding us that, at its core, shopping is still very much a social experience to savor.


Splurge

39 Lewis Street

IN GREENWICH SINCE
2007

BUSINESS
Gift Boutique

Sonia Malloy
Changing Course to Stay the Course

Sonia Malloy, the founder and owner of SPLURGE, developed a knack for sales at an early age. At nine years old, she began holding tag sales in her backyard. “After five years and five tag sales, my parents said, ‘No more. We don’t have anything left to sell,’” she recalls. The experience taught her valuable lessons about pricing, negotiating and customer service—skills that came in handy years later when she opened her popular gift shop in December 2007. “The timing was terrible,” she says. “But I really believed in the business. Even in 2008 I saw a glimmer of hope.”

The first SPLURGE, located on East Putnam Avenue, was dedicated to hand-crafted items made in the USA. Fairly quickly, Sonia realized she had to change course. “I needed more variety. Customers would tell me they needed hostess gifts in the $20 range. I listened to them and got on it.”

Today, the bright and cheerful shop on Lewis Street offers everything from Swell water bottles and silk scarves to monogrammed serving trays and fine jewelry. “I change the inventory often,” she says. “I never want people to come in and find the same things.” Last year, she took over an adjacent storefront and expanded her children’s offerings with a focus on tween girls. This fall she will launch a “minternship” program for girls ages eleven to thirteen. “They can learn what it takes to run a business,” says Sonia. “These are the formative years, the years when I developed my passion.”

GETTING PERSONAL

WHAT MADE YOU GO INTO BUSINESS FOR YOURSELF?
“From an early age, I loved organizing and putting pricing on items and haggling with people and coming up with a deal that worked for everyone. My dream was to be a merchant; it’s my calling.”

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
“The jobs I’ve created, the interns I’ve mentored and the relationships with my customers. For us it’s not just about offering great customer service in the store but going above and beyond to fulfill their needs. Whether someone buys a $20 gift or a $200 gift—it will be wrapped the same way, and those two customers will feel great about what they are walking out with.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
“Remaining relevant. With everything happening in today’s world, particularly with the Internet and ecommerce, the key is constant evolution.You have to be flexible and open to change. I like to keep things fresh. The store never looks the same two weeks in a row. We have so many customers who come in consistently, and that’s one of the biggest challenges. Another big challenge is how you allocate your time and resources to be the most productive.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ENTREPRENEURS JUST STARTING OUT?
“There are certain things that every entrepreneur needs: passion and belief; to be financially careful; to take small calculated risks that allow patience. It can be very discouraging to build a business, to hold on and stay the course. I was invested with everything I could be involved in—networking, holiday boutiques.These are not only great marketing opportunities, but also great ways to give back to the community and your peers. Finally, always under promise and over deliver!”


Green of Greenwich
311 Hamilton Avenue

IN GREENWICH SINCE
2012

BUSINESS
Floral Designer

Flavia Barker
Dreams in Bloom

Like many entrepreneurs, Flavia Barker’s journey as a small- business owner can be traced back to her childhood, in this case Sao Paulo, Brazil. Growing up with three sisters, all of whom were very competitive, she embarked on a career in finance, working as a commodities trader. Eventually the punishing hours took a toll. “When I was starting a family, I thought it would be best if I had more control of my life,” she recalls. Flavia had always loved working with flowers, so she quit her job and partnered with her mother who had a thriving floral design business.

When Flavia’s husband was transferred to the U.S. in 2006, word of her talent got out and soon she was freelancing for a local florist. In 2012, she opened Green of Greenwich, a floral design studio on Hamilton Avenue, housed in an antique brick building with tin ceilings and old hardwood floors. Today the highly sought-after designer does everything from intimate dinner parties to lavish fundraisers, as well as flower-arranging classes for small groups. “One of the things I love most is the contact I have with my clients,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling. I have people that will call me and say, ‘I’m doing a dinner party for twenty. I’m using this linen, this silver and this china.’ Before they’ve finished the sentence, I already know what the flowers are going to be.”

GETTING PERSONAL

WHAT MADE YOU GO INTO BUSINESS FOR YOURSELF?
“It comes from my passion for flowers; I love floral design and architecture. I’ve had the entrepreneurial spirit since I was thirteen. I was always looking for something to sell. If I’d had fidget spinners as a child, I’d have been selling them at school for sure. Even when I was in the financial world, we’d travel, and I’d buy stuff and sell it to my coworkers.”

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
“The contact I have with my clients and the things I learn every day. And the fact that I can be part of a community. I love being able to give back, even if in a small way, by donating flowers for a raffle. I really believe small businesses are the backbone of our society.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
“Time management. First, you need time to build your business, your name and your reputation. And then you need time to work. You are your business. I am the designer, buyer, cleaner, bookkeeper and delivery person. For example, today I spoke with a grower in Amsterdam, then I called vendors, then I talked to my insurance agent, then clients came in, and then I had a delivery.
Once a week I go to the flower market in New York City, which means getting up at 3:30 a.m. But I love it. That’s where my creative juices get flowing.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ENTREPRENEURS JUST STARTING OUT?
“You need a business plan. You need to know your market, your clientele, your targets. Don’t be shy about asking for help. I used the Women’s Business Development Council in Stamford. They are amazing. Talk to people who’ve been in business for a long time. Learn from them. Know that you will be involved 100 percent. Recently my husband and I were in London for a friend’s wedding, but I was tethered to my phone 24/7. As an entrepreneur, you don’t get free time. You get other things, but you don’t get free time.”


ASHA
409 Greenwich Avenue

IN GREENWICH SINCE
2016

BUSINESS
Jewelry Designer

Ashley McCormick
Shopping Beyond the Site

Ashley McCormick, the founder of ASHA, remembers the day her life changed course. She was a freshman at Georgetown University planning to major in economics, when she took her first art history class. “I fell in love with it,” she recalls. “I called my parents and asked if it was okay to switch majors. They said yes. That was a pivotal moment for me.” Ashley spent her junior year in Paris, where she met the head jewelry designer for Chanel. He offered to introduce her to a local jewelry artisan with whom she spent hours sketching each week. When she got back to the States, she found someone who could produce her designs. A serendipitous meeting with Christiane Celle, the founder of Calypso St. Barth, resulted in an order for $10,000 worth of merchandise.

“I remember thinking, This is amazing, but how am I going to do this?” Clearly, she found a way. Today, ASHA designs are in stores throughout the country, including Saks, trunk shows at Bergdorf Goodman and locally at Darien Sport Shop, among others. And her brand has grown into a collection of fine jewelry, bespoke pieces, accessories like handbags and even a children’s line, Little Asha.

Although a large number of sales come through her website (ashabyadm.com), two years ago Ashley opened the ASHA Penthouse—a sleek, modern showroom and creative lab—on Greenwich Avenue, in part because she wanted to offer her clients a chance to see the designs in process. For Ashley, the Penthouse is the next logical step toward fulling her long-term goals. “It’s a place for our clients to watch us work, to browse, to have a cup of tea, to shop in a relaxing setting. It brings my aesthetic to life,” she says. “I feel like I’m just starting out. There are so many things I want to do.”

GETTING PERSONAL

WHAT MADE YOU GO INTO BUSINESS FOR YOURSELF?
“I’ve always been entrepreneurial. As a kid I would make paintings and try to sell them. In high school I made and sold ribbon belts. I was always interested in commerce and creativity and figuring out how to get things done.

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
“I thrive on the ability to create things. When I see people wearing my jewelry, that’s a great feeling. Especially the fine jewelry, where we are creating heirlooms that are being handed down to the next generation.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
“Juggling all the areas of the business, which has become easier as I’ve grown the company. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to switch on and switch off different parts of your brain—design, packaging, marketing, accounting, shipping—I could go on. You have to be able to learn on the fly, adjust your plan and keep going.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ENTREPRENEURS JUST STARTING OUT?
“It’s very simple. Find something you are passionate about and just do it. If you wake up every morning with passion and conviction for your idea, that’s the place to start.
The other thing I tell people, seize an opportunity when you have the chance and follow through. I’m sure when he gave me his card, that jewelry designer from Chanel never thought he’d hear from me. That’s just one of the many serendipitous moments I’ve had along the way.”


Marietta C
436 East Putnam Avenue

IN GREENWICH SINCE
2017

BUSINESS
Dress Designer

Marietta Contadino
Behind the Seams

Behind a modest storefront on East Putnam Avenue, across the street from Citibank, Marietta Contadino and her team of seamstresses create swoon-worthy gowns and dresses for debutantes, bridal parties, socialites and more. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, who earned several prestigious awards along the way, Marietta says she dreamed of opening her own shop in Greenwich. But first she spent years learning the ropes and fine-tuning her individual style at fashion houses in Manhattan.

“My passion lay with evening wear and special trims,” she says. In 1997, Marietta opened a studio in the city, where she did a brisk business designing cocktail dresses for an upscale clientele. “They’d fly into New York and coordinate going to the opera and coming for their fittings,” she recalls. Eventually, she followed her heart and with the help of her brother, Louis, who designed the space, opened her Cos Cob boutique eleven years ago. With a range of styles and fabrics to choose from (she has more than 100 styles to pick from), she is involved in every step of the process—from the initial sketch to the final fitting.

As a designer, her biggest goal is to make her clients look their best. “I always give my opinion. A client might not be happy to hear it, but that’s what they come to me for. We have a joke here, ‘They come in wanting an all-over beaded dress, and they leave with a gown without a stich of beading on it.’”

GETTING PERSONAL

WHAT MADE YOU GO INTO BUSINESS FOR YOURSELF?
“Since I was nine years old, I always dreamed of having my own store in town and making beautiful dresses for people. I learned to sew from my mother. In high school; I made quilted vests for my classmates.”

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
“My clients. You become part of the family, their special occasions. A young lady got married, and I did her wedding dress. Then she got pregnant and I did a maternity dress, then I did the dress she wore for the baptism, the baby’s dress and the dresses for her mother and her mother-in-law. You become part of their life. Recently, a husband called me to say, ‘When I saw my bride in your gown, she took my breath away.’ That’s rewarding.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
“Getting the word out. People are surprised when they walk in the door. They think, what are you going to see in Cos Cob? The first time they come here, people compare me to big-name designers. They leave the boutique, run into New York City and go up and down Madison and Fifth avenues, and then they circle back here because of the quality of my designs. Or they might see one of my dresses in a Christmas card photo and ask their friends where they got the dress made.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ENTREPRENEURS JUST STARTING OUT?
“It’s easy. They have to do what they love. Even when I worked for other people, my ex-bosses would say, you are the hardest worker I’ve ever had. When I opened my own shop, I didn’t expect anything else. I’m very hands-on, even today. I still do all the lace work and the trim on every design.”


Perfect Provenance
47 Arch Street

IN GREENWICH SINCE
2016

BUSINESS
Lifestyle Boutique & Restaurant

Lisa Lori
Creative Curation

Located in a 1912 Victorian-style home in downtown Greenwich, Lisa Lori’s creative lifestyle store, the Perfect Provenance, features a beautifully curated collection of fashion, home and art products. Among the top sellers? The Circle of Life collection of jewelry. “It is based at a price point that could be given as a gift or a woman could buy for herself,” says Lisa. “It’s great when a woman comes in and says, ‘I’m going for it.’”

As an added bonus, shoppers can view special exhibitions and works of art that rotate seasonally and get a bite at the cozy Café 47, now under the guidance of Chef Duane Shand. It serves lunch daily and dinner the first weekend of every month, and hosts private events year-round. The shop’s setting on Arch Street is part of the appeal: within easy walking distance of the Avenue, the meticulously renovated home features turn-of-the-century touches such as the original front door with beveled glass panels, penny-round tiles, and even a bathroom with a pull-chain toilet. “These details give the space a little fun, a little oomph,” she says.

Shoppers will find home and gift items on the first floor, and men’s and women’s fashions on the second. “The idea was to take European and Australian designers that weren’t represented here and bring them into a boutique atmosphere. Throw food into the mix and you have a true gallery for the senses,” she says. “We are an old-fashioned boutique. We want you to feel like every time you come in there’s a new item, like when you go on vacation and you find something special and then every time you wear it, you’re happy and remember that special moment.”

GETTING PERSONAL

WHAT MADE YOU GO INTO BUSINESS FOR YOURSELF?
“The idea was born of my experience as a public relations professional in the luxury goods business for twenty-five years. I had always wanted to open a store. At fifty years old, I figured, okay, why not?”

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF OWNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
“It’s really gratifying to have an idea and concept and see it come to life. To have people embrace it. You can think about it for years and at night you’ll be lying there thinking, Is this crazy? Is this going to work? And then you bring the idea to fruition and see people get joy out of it. That is awesome, awesome. Plus, the store is two miles from my home. I get to see my kids every day. Two of them work in the café. We are part of the community. My husband is really supportive. That’s icing on the cake.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
“When you’re creating a business, building systems, recruiting staff and what price points to cover, that’s challenging. When you introduce new designers and brands, there is a learning curve. Now, after two years, I have a better sense of what works. I know my customers. The ins and outs of buying are really tricky. Just because it’s cool and edgy in Paris or London, doesn’t mean it’s right for Greenwich.”

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ENTREPRENEURS JUST STARTING OUT?
“You have to love it. That sounds self-evident. You have to have a passion for it. Also, sometimes an entrepreneur has an idea for something and then becomes so emotionally invested that it’s hard to step back. In PR I learned to take rejection. For people to expand, they need to learn to adapt and move forward.”

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