The lifeblood of many small towns across America is made up of the coffee shops, hardware stores and toy stores that, on an economic level, keep the town invigorated with tax revenue and employment opportunities. But, on a more human level, local businesses provide a familiar face and personal touch in a world that is becoming increasingly impersonal and reliant on technology.
Last year, eerily bereft of merchandise or displays lined Palmer Avenue in Larchmont, victims of the prolonged recession. This year, several new stores have opened in Larchmont and some longtime stores have weathered the economic storm.
Lee Rubin, owner of — a Palmer Avenue gift store — is celebrating two decades in business during a time when customers are not only tightening their purse strings, but making many of their purchases online.
According to Rubin, he’s closely watching the direction the economy has taken and “has adjusted his merchandise accordingly.”
“We’ve done that with great success,” he said.
The one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the esthetic of the store, which, Rubin adds, “doesn’t look different,” despite the small tweaking he’s done.
Rubin — a former advertising executive — turned his back on big business to pursue his version of the American Dream, making a career out of doing what he loves.
“I feel like it’s theater,” he said about the store, adding, “The curtains are coming up on a new production.”
Wendy Gee carries hostess and wedding gifts, personal accessories like jewelry and handbags, and home accessories such as rugs and lamps. It was voted as one of the “Top 100 Favorite Shops for Cottage Style” by Cottage Living Magazine.
Although business has been steady despite the downturn — not teetering at extremes of good or bad — Rubin has noticed some changes. Customers are less impulsive, and are deliberating longer before making a purchase.
“Now, I think they take a little bit more time,” he said, noting that some people may leave to think about a purchase before returning.
Does he feel deterred from his pursuit of the American Dream when so many businesses are throwing in the towel or being forced out by dwindling profits?
“I hope the American Dream is better than this,” he quipped, adding, “It’s a lot harder than it used to be—it’s a labor of love.”
But one thing that hasn’t waned is Rubin’s enthusiasm for his work and his business, a trait that seems to have allowed him to adapt to the changing economy.
“Every day is fun,” he said.
But, the pursuit of the American Dream is a more difficult goal today than it’s ever been.
“You could have a job you loved and make enough money to feel comfortable about today and your future,” said Rubin.
“Now you work harder for less.”
To celebrate 20 years in business, Wendy Gee will be running a month-long promotion starting Sept. 6, when 20 products will be discounted by 20 percent. Each day, a new product or category will be featured for discount, encompassing customer favorites; featured items will be posted in the store’s window. Additionally, the American Leather Sleepsofa will be discounted 10 percent.