Long Beach specialty gift store will close its doors May 15.
The economy isn’t getting any better, at least not for Justine Champlin. After nearly 10 years in business, the owner of Carleton & Dayne, a specialty gift store in Long Beach, will close her doors May 15.
“I’ve been trying to stay with the business and make it through the recession, waiting for it to change,” Champlin said. “It’s not changing.”
Champlin bought Carleton & Dayne in 2003, after the original owner opened the shop at 252 E. Park Ave. six years earlier. Champlin said she turned it around from a shop with custom gift baskets and gourmet foods to an establishment with so much more: home decor, bath and body products, Joseph Schmidt confections and baby products.
Today, though, the end is near, evidenced by the 20 to 70 percent liquidation sale signs posted on all items, as well as by the tears in Champlin’s eyes when she reflects her years there.
“I probably hung on a lot longer than I should have,” she suggested while sitting at her desk in the back of the store, its shelves sporting only a few wicker baskets. “It’s killing me but I’m coming to terms with it. There is part of me that is relieved, because I’ll stop the bleeding, but there’s the other part of me that is very sad.”
Champlin started to feel the pinch about four Easters ago, but that pinch turned into a punch that past two years. Before the economy collapsed in 2008, she was making, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, as many as 1,400 custom gift baskets, mostly for corporations, doctors and attorneys who typically paid between $75 and $200 a basket. Last holiday season she made just 300 baskets.
“So now corporate isn’t really giving any more because of the economy,” she said. “They can’t even keep their employees, so they definitely cut back on the corporate giving. I had a client who was a bankruptcy-foreclosure lawyer and was really busy and even they cut back.”
Add to this the stiffer competition she sees from the larger chain stores. Costco, for example, advertises similar but inferior gift baskets for $25 to $50, she said, and ships for free. And while she sells a gift box of Crabtree & Evelyn body products for $50, places such as Home Goods sell them for half the price. “Even if I were to stay in business I couldn’t compete with that anymore,” she forecasted.
Her calculations impacted her business, too. Last year, in anticipation of the Quiksilver surfing competition and festival, she invested heavily in merchandise specifically for the event, but when the concert-skateboarding events were cancelled, those products were left unsold. And while she had to let one employee go last year, she’s remained loyal two others, one of whom started prior to her ownership.
Meanwhile, Champlin pays $2,100 in rent monthly, $5,000 in annual taxes, and $3,500 yearly in commercial insurance, as well as utilities and payroll. Facing a new 10-year lease this fall was unimaginable. Instead, Healing Oasis, a massage therapy facility two doors down, will fill the void. The owner, Susan Lanzillotta, said Carleton & Dayne’s unit will afford her more space. The City Council will hold a hearing on the vacancy at the May 1 meeting.
On top of everything, Champlin was diagnosed with breast cancer last October, and was still undergoing radiation treatments during the holiday season, her busiest season. However, her health has since improved, she said. “I have to take care of myself, because the stress alone is going to bring that back,” she noted about her disease. “It’s very stressful to wake up to a deficit every single day.”
Looking ahead, she’s uncertain what her future holds. Her husband, Douglas, is a civil engineer working on the the project to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal. She’s planning a vacation with him. “I would just like to take a rest and find out what my new venture is going to be,” she said.
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