By Sophia Chang
And if not actually a giant, Skolnick has been a fairy godfather of sorts to Bayside's kids whose parents turned to his store for children's clothing for the past 33 years.But in the past few weeks, Clearance and Going out of Business signs have sprouted on the racks of discounted communion dresses and tiny baseball jackets as Skolnick, on the cusp of his 78th birthday, prepares to shut his store down and retire.”It was like a landmark,” Skolnick said of his store during a recent interview. “I'll miss it.”Skolnick began working in retail 55 years ago when he opened a children's store in Manhattan's Lower East Side called Skolnick's Kiddie Store.The Bayside store came later, opening in 1972 after Skolnick moved to the area with his family.”We moved to Bayside and bought a house, and when we saw this empty space, we rented it,” he said. The store's unusual name came from Skolnick's youngest son, Kevin.”He was adorable, and we called him Funny Face,” Skolnick said.In those days, Bell Boulevard was geared toward shopping.”It was beautiful. There were all retail stores and no restaurants,” Skolnick said. “It was a lovely area with lovely people.”And because there were so many children in Bayside in the late 1960s and 1970s, Skolnick said it made sense to open a children's store here as well.”The idea was to make money,” he candidly acknowledged. “There were an awful lot of young families that moved out here.”To serve those families, Skolnick shaped the store to be a one-stop shop for parents hoping to find the perfect graduation dress or for doting relatives looking for a precious shower gift.”We carried everything, from soup to nuts,” he said. “People walked into the store and they always walked out with something, because we were a children's department store.”Back in its prime, Funny Face was a beautifully appointed boutique, he said, known for its elaborate window displays by his wife Ellie Skolnick. Mets players would drop in sometimes with their wives.Business was so good that Skolnick eventually closed his Lower East Side store to concentrate full-time on the Bayside location.”We had five salesgirls here at one time,” he said, nodding around the now-empty store. Skolnick said his wife was the buyer, store manager and window dresser and stepped in as a salesgirl, too, and generally held everything together.”Ellie Skolnick was the whole store, the most important thing in the store,” he said. “I was secondary. She ran everything.”But the tide changed on Bell Boulevard as more and more restaurants and bars moved into the neighborhood.”It became more of a food place,” Skolnick said. “People aren't coming here anymore for clothing, they're coming to eat.”And while Skolnick seems to be eagerly anticipating retirement, even he is not immune from nostalgia.”People have been stopping by,” he said. “All their kids grew up in this store and now they're married and have kids of their own.””We wish the people in Bayside lots of luck and we are really sorry to leave,” he added. As for what Skolnick and his wife plan to do after the store closes for good in the next few weeks, there's one thing on his mind: “Retirement,” Skolnick bellowed in response to a reporter's question. “We'll travel. I'm 78 years old and I feel like I deserve it.”Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.