Service of Specialty Stores

June 27th, 2011

Categories: Accommodation, Back to Basics, Celebrations, Customer Care, Do-it-Yourself, Retail, Small, Specialists


Some amuse themselves for hours in hardware or jewelry stores and I’ve covered paper, art, electronics and fur operations.

 I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and just discovered N.Y. Cake. If you like to bake or dream of cakes, pies and cupcakes, it’s a hoot to visit. In business 30 years [the website history notes “more than 25” though a headline boasts the higher number], I didn’t need it before because other venues like card shops and convenient party stores carried what I was looking for. Most no longer do or they are out of business.

cupcakeliner2At N.Y. Cake there are unusual birthday candles–some champagne bottles and others designed for sports fans such as baseball bats. Shelves are filled with sugar calla lilies, roses and rosebuds in a range of sizes and colors as well as daisies, magnolia and other blossoms. Along with small silver and gold balls–drageesI saw giant pearls, leaves, marzipan fruits, containers of multi-colored sprinkles and a color wheel’s worth of sugar crystals.

cupcake-linerI enjoyed the selection of polka dot patterned paper cupcake liners, cake and pie pans and decorating equipment. A man stood at a key juncture of the store to point out what customers were looking for as soon as he saw someone’s confused or frustrated expression. I recommend that you take a quick look around before you ask him for directions to take in the selection.

A fisherman enjoying a shop filled with fishing equipment or a car lover at the auto show would have as much fun as I did in this place.

As larger stores cut down on inventory and eliminate specialty items that don’t generate appropriate sales margins do you think we’ll revert to more such specialty stores? What are your hobbies and what are your favorite places to feed them? Are there any specialty stores you miss or could use?


10 Responses to “Service of Specialty Stores”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    Specialty stores keep alive a tradition that department stores and big box stores nearly crushed, but the current trend (to downsizing) has made a great many specialty stores irrelevant.

    It used to be that you could walk into your local hardware store and come away with, maybe, a modest purchase but also a volume or two of good advice—on anything from painting a basement to patching a roof. Today, however, you frequently find you’re dealing with clerks who may have mastered the computer-cash register but are clueless about anything having to do with home maintenance or repair.

    The enormous inventory maintained by big box stores is less appealing when you are forced to wander the aisles unguided and unaided in your search for something that will cure a problem that you’d find difficult to explain to anyone but an expert. Expertise is almost more important than products.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Excellent point. And I am so used to shopping on my own with no help that I didn’t ask the folks at NY Cake about an implement I bought. It works very well–to slice pie dough to make a lattice top–but doesn’t achieve the rickrack edge I’d hope for even though there are two wheels, one that looked as though it would.

  3. Simon Carr Said:

    I hate the very idea of shopping, and for this reason, small stores with knowledgeable help that knows the merchandise being offered, and where in the store to find it, is a true Godsend!

    We drink large quantities of seltzer water. I can’t tell the difference between one seltzer brand and another, which makes trying to buy the stuff in a mammoth grocery store a daunting task. There are all sorts of brands and price points, how do I know what to buy? Invariably, I go for what looks like the cheapest bottle, but how can I tell that there is the same amount of water in each bottle? You have to read the label. That takes more time. And every few months or so, I come home with a couple of bottles of that awful chemically flavored stuff by mistake, and that causes me still more problems!

    I grew up before there were all these big stores. Yea for the good old days when you could go in and say, “Good morning Mr. Shultz, what’s the best deal in the seltzer line today?” just like I still do at the cheese and fish stores around the corner, and Schultz would give you the right seltzer. And if it’s anything like our cheese and fish stores are today, the price isn’t all that more than what you pay at those behemoth places.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I too drink seltzer. I think the bottles all taste the same regardless of brand. Look for the cheapest. And I think that the bottles are standard sizes–same amount of liquid.

    There was a small grocery store in our NYC neighborhood where I grew up and although we went to the grocery chain because it was much, much less expensive, when my mom needed something from the small store or if she called for a delivery because she was sick, every single one of the sales people in the little store were as gracious to her as if she bought everything from them all the time.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I am not a typical shopper. I loathe the activity, and make things as easy for myself as possible. The supermarket is fine when one picks off hours, avoids lines, thus avoiding unhappy employees, or using the mechanical check out – a fine way to make a speedy exit.

    As far as specialties go, I get a fat F. If something looks interesting, and the price tag doesn’t cause hair to stand on end, I experiment. If a given item fails to appear, unless it’s vital, it’s forgotten – or I might tell the manager. That works more often than not.

    Not all small shops have superior help. There are some spectacular exhibits of rudeness out there, not all of them unwarranted. Regardless of the place one shops, making employees feel important is key. Excellent service is possible from the supermarket staff as well as from Ye Friendly Got Rocks Shoppe. Trouble with many customers is that they are too busy lording it over those they feel superior to, and shouldn’t be surprised at the sorry result.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right that a manager of any size store is usually willing to add to the inventory if you ask and their distributor can comply but the problem is, I usually need whatever is missing right away as I don’t always think ahead or something pops up.

    I believe that most people in retail could share both horrendous and hilarious tales about unreasonable customers. Most people with clients have at one or another time met up with ogres, but sales associates are exposed to far more of them. Those who grin and bear it the best are probably most successful.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Grinning and bearing won’t do it. Developing a thick, hide along with taking nothing personally, will. Believe me. I’ve been there, and for the ill paying job that it is, it stinks!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    It’s certainly physically grueling. I’ve staffed trade show booths and after just a few days get tired. Standing day after day after day after….well, you’ve done it so you know…is hard enough. Toss in low pay, difficult customers and a testy boss because sales are down in a faltering economy—Whew! As a friend used to say, it’s no walk in the park [although I would think a walk in the park would be easier and at times, more fun].

  9. Hank Goldman Said:

    Since some of the comments went in the direction of seltzer….
    Attention Seltzer Lovers:

    MAKE YOUR OWN. My son got me a gift of a Soda Club (Now Soda Stream) machine and a few bottles of ‘gas’. You can use the purest water you can make [or buy], and you can custom tailor how “fizzy” you want your bubbles!

    In the long run its far less $$ and far less “schleping” of bottles. The bottles they give you are made of the “good plastic” that lasts. Just don’t put them in a dishwasher…. Its fun, and in an emergency (surprise party?) you can use tap water and “be in business” in seconds !!!!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Good idea and tip, Hank–a few large bottles of seltzer are literally a drag to get home and the bottles use all that plastic that needs to be recycled. I saw one of these at a store the other day. Your endorsement is more appealing than the display!

    My only concern: I’ve read about buildings with old plumbing–I live in one–and how tenants should take care about drinking the water that runs through the pipes. As this is the water I’d use to make the seltzer, I hesitate. On the other hand, who knows where the water comes from in the commercial seltzer I buy.

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