Q: Is there such a thing called the Christmas business?
A: Yes. There is a growing section of the market that's Christmas stores. They're primarily found in tourist areas but in most major cities there's at least one Christmas store.
Q: Do you make a lot of money?
A: It's relatively profitable. I'm working on it.
Q: What kind of things do you sell?
A: Ornaments. A lot of ornaments. Tree trim, house decor, cards and paper goods, lights, trees, garlands, treetops, nutcrackers, nativities. The kinds of things that you would take out at Christmastime and decorate your home with and then wrap up and put away for a year.
Q: Do you think of it as a holiday or more business oriented?
A: Strictly business. I'm Jewish. It's a wonderful day of rest, Christmas Day, but it's not a holiday. But I love it and it's a very special holiday to my customers. Christmas to most people -- religion aside -- is a wonderful time they remember. Special moments when they were little with their families. (People) come in and see something charming that this little boy or girl would love. Or they had this when they were a little child. They want to trim their tree and make their house look beautiful, because it's all those wonderful memories of special times.
Q: Don't you get sick of Christmas?
A: Not when it's a good business.
Q: People who don't even have Christmas stores get sick of Christmas.
A: Yes, but I don't. Because it's wonderful. When Christmas time comes there's customers and traffic and you feel real happy.
Q: If you weren't Jewish you probably would get sick of Christmas.
A: I think that's true. Because if the holiday was emotional to me I would probably feel it was all commercialized. If I grew up with it and loved Christmas a certain way I don't know that I'd want to see it overblown and year-round. It would take away the beautiful memories of that family time to me. But it doesn't mean that to me -- at all.
I have found in my buying that it allows me to be impartial. When I look at the market and say, well what's going to sell? This red sled or this green sled? If I had celebrated Christmas my whole life I know I would buy what I loved and what meant something to me. When my clients come into the store, they buy what they grew up with. There's one item, called a "bubble light." It was a bulb in a little enclosed glass case and when you lit it there was water in it and it bubbled. It was red and gold and light and there was movement on your tree. Everybody who walked in and said, "I had those on my tree when I was a child." Picked one up and bought it for their tree to take home. If I were buying from that point of view and had seen this darling Scottie dog in New York, I would have said well that's not Christmas. Whoever heard of Scottie dogs for Christmas? I might not have bought it.
Q: What's it like after Christmas?
A: People go looking for sales. I mean I'm just not the kind of person who would go buy my Christmas cards half-price and save them for 364 days. I don't think that far in advance. And it's amazing, people do that. They plan to do that. They come in droves and buy armloads of gift wrap and cards.
Q: How do you know what's going to sell next year?
A: This year when I went to do my buying in New York we saw tons of Scottie dogs. They're very in. Look at my store. I've got dogs in blocks and little dogs and big dogs and the packaging. A lot of it sold out. When I saw it on the market I knew that was going to be a big item this fall. I felt it.
Q: How do these trends get started? Do you know?
A: Some designer decides maybe that Scotties are going to be big. And they are. They're everywhere. Teddy bears have been very popular for the past three or four years. The market was inundated with Teddy bears. Teddy bear ornaments. This bear dressed like this. You name it, it existed in Teddy bears. My feeling is if the market is that much saturated it's over. Sometimes I love something and it just doesn't sell. The year before I got married (to an ice-cream entrepreneur) I bought everything (decorated with) ice- cream cones. They didn't sell. Still have ice-cream cones in all the stores.
Q: What about kids? How good are they a barometer for buying?
A: They're not spending the money.
Q: There must be times during the year when it's incredibly slow. What do you do in June?
A: I go to market in January and February and buy. We do Easter. It's not important like Christmas because people don't celebrate like Christmas. But they buy baskets and toys and a little bit of decor. That gets us through the spring. By late May and June we begin getting in new merchandise for the year because we want our store set up for July. By Aug. 1 our store should be completely set up because Aug. 1 is when the people who think they are very early Christmas shoppers, start.
Q: Do you find it at all ironic that you are Jewish and that you make your living off Christmas and Easter?
A: Yes, it is. If you would have asked me when I was a little girl what am I going to do when I grow up, I would not have told you I would have had Christmas stores.
Q: When you were little did you ever feel like you were missing something?
A: We didn't. People have attempted to make Hanukah more like Christmas. In terms of religion it's a very minor holiday. It's only become important to assimilate -- so that Jewish children who grew up with Gentile children had a holiday and received presents. I remember growing up and it was so wonderful because there are eight nights of Hanukah and you got a present on every night. Our dining table was just covered with presents and you could choose one every night.
Q: Do you think that Christmas has become too commercial?
A: No. I mean now here I am the epitome of the commercialization of Christmas. But when people come into my store there's Christmas music and it's happy and it's a joyous time. It's family. It's friends. If they take home a pretty little ornament it's one more little thing that adds to their holiday.
Q: You don't think there's too much hype.
A: Absolutely not in my store.
Q: What about the moods of the people who come in early and those who come in the week before Christmas. Is there any discernible difference?
A: We sell different merchandise. Early on we sell bigger items, more expensive items, collectible nutcrackers. And they're going to make sure it is in perfect condition, just right. By Dec. 15 they want a nutcracker, they'll take that one. Wrapitupthankyougoodbye.
We are not a destination store. A destination store is like an anchor store in a mall. If people are going to go shopping they're going to Bloomingdale's. They go to a store for a purpose. We're not that kind of a store. We're like an impulse store. You don't need our product so much that you make a special trip to us.
Q: Does it ever make you feel sort of strange, that some of the products you sell are essentially useless, unnecessary?
A: But then what's necessary? They're not useless if they make people happy.
Q: Are you happy in what you do
A: Yes. There are times -- the long days -- . It's difficult and I get nervous or scared.
Q: What scares you?
A: That I won't do as much as I need to do for the season. Or that Scottie dogs are going to be a bust. Maybe scared that people won't celebrate Christmas. That there'll be a blizzard and they won't come out and buy ornaments. People have a misconception of retail. They see a store, they see glamour. They say, "I'd love to own a store. What they don't see is high rent, grueling hours and gambling on goods. You don't know which ones are going to sell. It's scary and not as glamorous as it looks. When we started it was a living. And it still is a living for Rita and me. We don't do it for the fun of it. It's not a hobby at all. It's not just a lark.
Q: Do you work with your mother or for your mother.
A: We're partners. I handle all the administration and she is the creative person.
Q: Did you have any hesitation about going into business with your mother?
A: I thought about it for a while. It wasn't, "Well, I have nothing else to do when I get out of college." I made the choice.
Q: How do you divorce business and family?
A: First of all, on a working basis I always call her Rita, not Mom. If we go home and I'm asking her, "Do you like the way this dress looks on me?" I'm going to say Mom.
Q: Does that come automatically?
A: Pretty much. It's a shift. One's personal and one's business.
Q: Was that a conscious decision you made?
A: Yes, because if we were going to be in the office and I have a client sitting with me and I'm going to turn around and say, "Oh Mom, by the way what ink color should I recommend here?" that would just totally tear away any respect I may have earned. I didn't want to be treated like a daughter.
Q: Does she ever treat you like a daughter?
A: Oh yes. But rarely in business. We don't step on each other's toes.
Q: Would you want your daughters to go into business with you?
A: I haven't planned my children's careers yet. I haven't planned my children yet.
Q: What do you think drives you?
A: I want to be successful. I would like it to be profitable, earn money. (But) it's not just for the money. I saw a college roommate recently and she said to me, "Carla, you're one of the only people that I know who actually achieved what you said you were going to do. I vividly remember you sitting down freshman year and telling me that you were going to go into business with your mother, you were going to be very successful with a chain of stores. And here you are. That's just what you did." So maybe I did decide that a long time ago. I don't remember consciously stating that when I was 18.
When I was young I felt if I was going to be successful I was going to be successful by the time I was 25. I'd read books about (the late Joseph) Hirshhorn and other men who achieved great success and they've all been successful by the time they were 21 or 25. These men who made fortunes! At that point in my life I had met Neal and I had two stores that were successful. And I felt we had been in business long enough to know that they were going to continue to be successful. Many, many small stores who open a shop do not make it five years.
Q: What's that like, having two entrepreneurs in one family?
A: It really works because Neal was the first man who accepted that I was going to come home at 10 o'clock at night.When I met him I was working six days a week, 10, 12 hours a day. He didn't expect me to be home at 6 o'clock and make dinner. Ever. And he worked till 11, so I would get home first! It's not that I think I was competitive with other men but that's not what their image of somebody was.
Q: When you go home at night do you talk business with your husband?
A: Yes. I'm interested in what he's doing, he's interested in what I'm doing.
Q: How is his business going?
A: He's been very successful. He's in a good location.
Q: Is there ever any competition between the two of you?
A: Yes, we always compare figures.
Q: No. Do you?
A: Of course we do. "What did you do today? Oh, I did that." But not seriously. Just day-to-day conversation. We're both basically in business for ourselves and we're not competitive in that sense. Our goals, our aspirations are the same. What we want to succeed at. So we support each other.
Q: What are you going to do if you want to start a family?
A: I very much want a family. We can keep working. My baby's going to come to work.
Q: Whether she likes it or not.
A: Right. I believe you can have it all.
Q: Has this made you pick up any Christmas customs at all?
A: I dream Christmas ornaments and trees. If you worked in a Christmas store 12 hours a day -- . I decorate trees in my sleep. I send Christmas cards.
Q: Do you buy them six months ahead?
A: No, in fact they're sitting on the kitchen counter. Usually I write them out Christmas Day. But theyre wonderful this year. They have ice cream cones on the front and there's something about a sweet season.