Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Business Elves Work Overtime

For some stores, hours and sales double or more

By Joseph Kellard

It’s lunchtime on the Wednesday thirteen days before Christmas, and Joe Dee has several undecorated wreaths spread out on a workstation table at Dee’s Nursery in Oceanside. They are among the thousands of wreaths and garlands, hundreds of them custom ordered, that Dee estimates he and his staff are making before the big holiday.

The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the nursery’s second busiest time of year, rivaled only by the May planting season, but this is more hectic because Dee and his family’s business face a definite deadline: Dec. 25.

“I would say it’s definitely crazier," said Dee, who opens the store every day at 8 a.m. and closes it by 10 p.m. during the Christmas and holiday season. "The Christmas business is compacted more into the shorter time period. We do most of our Christmas business in three weeks, as opposed to six to eight weeks in springtime."

During the Christmas and holiday season, Dee’s, a family-owned, decades-old nursery that is a virtual Oceanside institution on Atlantic Avenue, is nevertheless relatively no busier than many other businesses, particularly those that create and customize everything from decorations to presents, during this time of year.

Sami Saatchi, owner of SVS Fine Jewelry on Long Beach Road in Oceanside, gets an influx of orders during late November and December, particularly for custom rings, since many couples typically get engaged around the holidays.

During these months, Saatchi can be found cutting his diamonds into the night, often a few hours past his usual 6 p.m. closing time. Normally, a custom job can take about four to six weeks. During this time, Saatchi can manage to make a custom ring in a week and a half. "It gets crazy," Saatchi said, laughing and echoing Dee’s sentiments.

On the Wednesday after Black Friday, Saatchi said that in the next three weeks, due to time constraints, he will probably create some 20 custom pieces before Christmas. He starts by putting the customer’s specific drawing to a computer program that allows him to create a virtual rendition on the flat screen on his shop’s wall. SVS is among more than a dozen jewelry stores in and around Oceanside, including his father’s shop in Island Park, but Saatchi believes that providing such technology gives him an edge over them. And a smaller, family store like his has a different advantage over the likes of Zales or Kay Jewelers.

"Jewelry, after all, is used to celebrate all the special moments in our lives," Saatchi said, "and you want to know who it’s coming from and you want to make it that personal … We get to know our customers and it becomes a lot more personal experience. It really [boils] down to, ‘Who has done the right thing by someone I know.’"

Arlene Toback, owner of Chapter One Books in the T.J. Maxx shopping center on Long Beach Road, said that while regular customers still come to her store during the holidays, she gets many unfamiliar faces that can effectively triple her business. "Along with summer, it’s my best time," Toback said.

Not a business that creates merchandise like a nursery or jewelry store, Chapter One must otherwise emphasize customer service. And even though Toback has few competitors in the area, she nevertheless must compete with the distant chain stores such as Barnes & Noble and Border’s near Roosevelt Field Mall — not to mention customers who come to her store, find a book they want, but order a cheaper copy on Amazon.com.

"It’s a tough thing and I can’t compete with that," Toback admits.
She looks, instead, to create a staff that knows the books her customers typically read. "I want to be able to talk to my customers about the books we’re selling," said Toback, who reads everything from mysteries to book club materials to children’s books.

Toback keeps abreast of the book world by reading the New York Times Sunday Book Review and Publishers Weekly, as well as taking suggestions from her kids, ages 10, 14 and 17. During the Christmas season, Toback said she likes to educate herself on the books that people tend to buy more during this time.

Chapter One also has a one-day book-delivery service to compete with. "If a person comes in for a book, and if my distributor in New Jersey or New York has it in stock, I can pretty much have it for them the next day," Toback said.

While her store is busy during the Black Friday weekend after Thanksgiving, when business typically doubles, sales can triple as Christmas nears. "Those last two and a half weeks before Christmas is when I really have many shoppers," Toback said.

At Dee’s, the weekend after Thanksgiving, most customers come in for indoor and outdoor decorations, to get started on creating some Christmas spirit around their homes.

As Dee was creating his wreaths last week, a sales representative dropped by, opening his large binder filled with holiday products to keep Dee’s shelves stocked.

"Tom, do you have those white swags left?" Dee said to the sales representative. "I have a woman who started decorating her house, didn’t have enough, and when she came back I was all out."

On the third weekend and the week leading up to Dec. 25, the live merchandise, from poinsettias to evergreen trees, moves the most.

The Dee’s own tree farm in Maine keeps the nursery self-sufficient with live Christmas trees. But that’s not always the case with the fresh cut flowers in the nursery’s floral department. Dee’s hires about 10 percent more staff during December, mostly to sell trees and to make the floral arrangements, table centerpieces and fruit and gourmet baskets that comprise the shop’s most popular items.

"Because they are perishable, these items are usually one of the last thoughts people have," said Steve Dee, Joe’s older brother, who sits at a computer in the floral department Googling information on fir trees. "So five or six days before the holidays is the busiest time back here."

While Dee’s tries to give customers a choice of up to a dozen different centerpieces or bouquets to distinguish the nursery from the chain florists, some customers desire unique flowers – whether specific to a particular region, such as Holland, or that have exotic colors. But days before Christmas, these are not always easy to get from a local wholesaler, Steve said.

"It does get pretty frantic," he said, "and sometimes people who want something special, they do it the day before. So," he said with a grin, as if talking to his customers, "remember to order early."

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at
: Theainet1@optonline.net.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Art Gallery Opens Where Few Exist

Long Island artists find place to display works

By Joseph Kellard

A print of Renoir’s "Child in White" on her bedroom wall served as the sister she never had while growing up in Indiana.

"Throughout my life, art has inspired me," said Sueanne Shirzay, who hosted the grand opening reception of her new gallery in Island Park on Sunday. "I grew up with a beautiful Renoir of a little girl on my wall. I didn’t have any sisters, so ..."

Shirzay’s thought trails off, but it’s clear she understands the emotionally powerful part that an artwork can play in a person’s life. And in opening her Sueanne Shirzay Gallery, at 4410 Austin Blvd., she hopes that patrons will find their own personal "Child in White" to inspire them among the works of more than 12 local artists adorning the studio’s walls. The reception featured paintings, drawings, PhotoShop collages, reliefs, fiber art and jewelry, with paintings ranging in price from prints that go for $45 to originals that climb into the $4,000 range.

"My goal is to hit every price point," Shirzay said. "I want everyone to afford beautiful art."

The show at her 3,000 square-foot gallery, located on the second floor of Carpet Craft (her husband Bashir’s store), will run until Jan. 5, and regular hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Among the works at the reception were Ron Rundo’s mix of fiery red, orange and yellow southwestern landscapes. Rundo, an Island Park resident who spent the last 15 months shopping his paintings in galleries owned by Galerie Zuger in Santa Fe, wanted to participate in a gallery in his hometown.

"I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help out," said Rundo, who has made a living designing postage stamps and painting mostly portraits for the past 17 years.

The PhotoShop collages on display came from the lens of Denise Bory. The Long Beach woman takes detailed digital shots of her subjects, including insects, flower buds and sunsets, and merges these components, usually around a portrait of a child or animal, to evoke a particular theme, such as tropical or seasonal motifs. At Shirzay’s showing, Bory displayed "Chloe’s Garden," a collage that features a young boy peeking through leaves and a cat encircled by spiders, praying mantises and similar crawly creatures.

"I often change around colors," Bory said about the artistic side of her medium, which she dubs "digistration." "I may start out with something green, like a leaf, and change it to purple."

Sharing wall space with Bory’s collages were painter Mary Blair’s pastels of beach and surf scenes of her native Long Beach, Italian villages and the Hollywood hills. Blair typically takes her paintings to fairs and art shows from Kennedy Plaza outside Long Beach City Hall to Manhattan to West Hampton. She used to display them at The Workshop on the West End, a now defunct studio gallery of fine arts and hand-made crafts."It was a nice meeting ground for artists," Blair said.

Asked about the lack of galleries along Nassau County’s south shore, Blair gave a knowing laugh and searched carefully for an answer. "Probably, it’s the proximity to Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island City," she said. "They have many different studios, shows and other outlets there. And it could be that there’s not enough affordable space around here."Rundo once rented studio space at Shirzay’s building, and speculates that when most Long Islanders seek to buy original art, they reflexively think of established studios in New York.

"I think people associate galleries with the city," Rundo speculated, "and I think it’s one of those things that is difficult to get off the ground, like ‘will the community support that,’ and ‘are there enough people who have the kind of money to purchase original art?’"

Bory, Blair and many other artists in the immediate area often go to the Long Beach Library to display their creations. "The local artists tend to go with art groups," Bory explained, "and they tend to display in libraries. It’s hard to find places around here, but I’m sure if we were in the city, they would have more opportunities for us."

Bory is a founding member of the Artist Mothers Group, a Long Beach-based organization that originally met about five years ago to draw and paint together downstairs at a member’s home while a babysitter watched their kids upstairs."We were frustrated that we had babies and couldn’t do our work, and this idea made it easier for us to do our art work," Bory said.

Shirzay said that, beside that it was difficult for her to find time to draw and paint when her children, now ages 6, 11 and 13, were younger, she was concerned about having them around paint fumes and other materials. So she moved her studio to above her husband’s carpet store.

Long before having her children, when she was a 16-year-old kid, Shirzay first arrived in New York to study for a summer at Parsons. After attending Purdue, she graduated from Pratt Institute, but admits that art was not her first love. "I never wanted to be a fine artist, really," she said in her gallery office, where a few of her paintings-in-progress sit on easels. "I liked to write ad copy."

She became an advertising and publishing art director and established Shirzay Communications, a firm that she owned for 10 years. Today, Shirzay offers in-home and business art consulting by appointment.

In addition to providing a new home for local artists, she aims for her gallery to be simple and inviting for art lovers looking to keep some cash in their wallets. "This is how I look," Shirzay said, gesturing at her blue jeans while describing the non-elitist environment she looks to create at her studio. "You’re not going to see me wearing high heels."

And Shirzay said she’ll employ her husband’s business approach, a lesson she considers the most important in sales. "To listen," she said. "I always strive to treat people exactly how I would want to be treated."

Contact the Sueanne Shirzay Gallery at (516) 241-5836, by email at shirzaygallery@aol.com, or visit the Web site at sueanneshirzaygallery.com.

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post a comment about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard's writing services, email him at Theainet1@optonline.net.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I (Heart) the Mercury Girl

Sure, there’s Keira Knightly. And I can’t forget Petra Nemcova. Of course, I’d be remise if I didn’t mention Queen Rania of Jordan.

These lovely high-profiled ladies still sit at the top of my list of favorite beauties. But right now my biggest “crush” is on the Mercury girl, Jill Wagner. Get a gander at her on the right. And if you haven’t seen her many car commercials, watch one of them at the link below (no, I’ve not yet mastered the ability to upload YouTube videos here; and, yes, I’m about as technically proficient at Woody Allen):


Oh, I almost forgot: here's a slideshow of Miss Wagner that you might enjoy as much as I do:


Happy viewing!

~ Joseph Kellard

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Getting the Essence of Religion Wrong

By Joseph Kellard

The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby is an insightful columnist who usually goes awry once his Christian conservatism obstructs his thinking. An example is his Oct. 31 column about a group of self-described "Primitive Baptists," who openly call for various ills and catastrophes to befall homosexuals and Americans in general for their alleged unredeemably sinful behaviors.


Jacoby's response to these religious fanatics is to appear objective in interpreting God and religion, and so he ends up appealing to non-essentials. His point is that these Baptists focus only on the Bible's negatives - God's punishments for (supposedly) wicked behavior. But, at root, objectivity demands, not necessarily a "balancing" between two sides of a subject, but an identification of its essence. Jacoby writes "that God's foremost demand is that human beings act with kindness and decency" toward one another.

Yet, as demonstrated by the foremost Ten Commandments, the foundation of Christianity's ethics is God's demand for man's blind obedience toward Him.
Whatever good moral lessons may be in the Bible are thus trumped by God's overriding command for unthinking faith in his word. But then what, in essence, is "the good" in Christianity? Well, as the foremost Commandments again demonstrate, it is self-sacrifice, a renunciation of the self, of one's reasoning, questioning mind.

Doing "good" in Christianity is, foremost, to be your brother's keeper. And even if the person you are, say, sacrificing your money for is wholly unworthy of it, so be it: the Bible demands it and you have no right to question or defy God's word - or else He'll punish such "wicked" behavior. How does an eternity in Hell sound?

Moreover, the Bible has enough instances in which God invokes his followers to initiate violence against violators of his word - including those who renounce Him to live, instead, by an actual rational moral code. As Ayn Rand's novels and non-fiction demonstrate, faith and force are corollaries - that is, the faithful of all stripes must ultimately twist the arms of such unbelievers. When faith is your primary means to "knowing," then rational persuasion is out; it's God's word and blind obedience toward it - or else!

In essence, the more consistent Christians are the very "Primitive Baptists" Jacoby condemns, just as the more consistent Muslims are those who crashed planes into the Twin Towers. And, remember, the widely respected Jerry Falwell believed these atrocities were God's punishment for America's alleged sins.