Drawing upon her own experience owning children's boutiques for more than 20 years, Kathy Pagano, owner of specialty children's shop in Stony Brook, said the secret to longevity in owning a small business is this: you’ve got to keep reinventing yourself by trying new things, especially with a rough economy.
"You’ve got to change with the times. I’m on Facebook now, I’m emailing my customers," she said. "I’m listening to them."
For instance, early this year Cottontails began offering a selection of Communion outfits, and later Christening outfits. Pagano, who lives in Stony Brook, is getting ready to launch a revamped Cottontails website. Over the past few years, she began stocking toys and other gift items in addition to clothing, and began offering a high-end gift wrapping service.
In fact, she said, one of her favorite parts about owning the store is "shopping the market and finding new things."
But that's not all she loves.
"I also enjoy the loyal customers that I have, hearing them talking about the children and grandchildren and seeing them grow up over the years," she said. "That’s been rewarding."
She said she also loves having a business in the beautiful which she called "a great environment to be in."
However, there are challenges, including competition from the internet – which has even .
"Retail has changed so rapidly over the past few years that it’s been a challenge to stay competitive," Pagano said. "Right now there are so few specialty stores out here. A lot of them have closed. I think my biggest competitor right now is the internet."
Pagano began her career in retail by working at G&G stores, eventually becoming a buyer and merchandiser for the chain, while sold juniors' clothing. More than 20 years ago, she decided to open her own children's wear store, Magic Hearts, on Cedar Street in Stony Brook. Then, she expanded to Port Jefferson, but later sold the Magic Hearts business and bought Cottontails.
Cottontails originally occupied the storefront that is now home to , and expanded to the current corner location 15 years ago. Among the trends Pagano has noticed: shopping is a very strong mother-daughter bonding experience.
She recently began to work with the nonprofit group Clothes 4 Souls, which collects clothes (both new and used in very good condition) for underprivileged children. Specifically, Pagano hopes to collect clothing to go to children in need in Lithuania – that's where her adopted daughter, Ann Marie, is from.
For the new business owners out there, Pagano offers this advice:
"You can’t get stagnant, which is very easy to do. You have to try new things, look for new trends," she said. "Stay focused bc it’s so rapidly changing that you’ll be left behind. I think that’s part of why we’re still here. We change things up. That’s how you survive in this economy."