When it comes to the etiquette of invitations and announcements, Phyllis Martinez really knows her stuff.
For instance, writing "half past six" on an invitation for an event that starts at 6:30 p.m. is actually improper syntax. It should be "half after six," she said. And for a wedding invitation, the placement of the names depends upon who is footing the bill. And if you're not getting married in a church, she said, you're not supposed to write "The honor of your presence" on the invitation.
Her knowledge comes in handy at her store, The Writing Place, which has enjoyed a home in the Stony Brook Village Center for more than 15 years.
A bit of history: The concept of The Writing Place began as a Christmas boutique at Deepwells in St. James in 1996, then took shape in a tiny spot in the "Crescent" section of the Stony Brook Village Center before moving to a larger spot in the inner court area, and finally to its present storefront.
The store specializes in custom invitations and announcements, with the ability to do on-site printing in as little as an hour, and can also create custom items like water bottle labels, keychains, luggage tags, bottle openers, pens, laptop sleeves, and more.
"My goal is: I want it to be a happy store, a neighborly store," Martinez said. "Like the old corner bookstore. They come in as strangers and they leave as friends."
But the store isn't solely for invitations, stationery, and other elegant writing tools. The Writing Place also sells Vera Bradley bags and accessories, trendy jewelry and unusual gift items, customizable products, and more. It's necessary, Martinez said, for the success of the store, especially in light of tough competition from the internet.
"We're much more than just a graphic design store," she said. "You have to reinvent yourself, hence the jewelry and the gifts. You have to constantly be watching the market, reading the magazines. You have to try and stay one step ahead."
Martinez is originally from Pennsylvania. Her current business is a departure from her first career: with college degrees in biology and chemistry, she started out doing research for a pharmaceutical company. But the store had its roots in Martinez's love of parties, and she said she has even planned events attended by hundreds of guests.
"It's all happy occasions," she said. "I always liked parties. When we moved here, I said I'd like to have a party store. It just grew and grew."
If she had the chance to do it all over again, Martinez said she might consider changing only one thing: the name of the store. "People come in and think it's a writing center," she said.
But, she said, she wouldn't change anything else.
Running a business "is not easy, but you do it because you love it," Martinez said. "It truly has been a lot of fun."