Anita Manfredonia, founder of women’s boutique Pippy&Lily, got her first look into the life of a small business owner at her family’s Italian deli on Long Island.
A child at the time, she helped out her grandparents, who emigrated from Italy, and mother with some of the day-to-day operations.
“I guess it was just in my blood,” she said.
Originally from Nassau County, Manfredonia moved to Flushing with her husband a number of years ago. New to the neighborhood, she shopped at local businesses and introduced herself to residents when she eventually stumbled upon a home decor storefront on 29th Avenue. It was then she and the store’s owner forged a friendship.
At the same time, Manfredonia was running her women’s boutique, Pippy&Lily, as an online store. After hearing about her fledgling business, the owner offered her the chance to display her handbags, jewelry and scarves at the home store. The move was a great success.
After about a year, the business owner told Manfredonia that her lease was up and she felt it was time to close. She offered her the chance to take over her lease — a decision she called a “no-brainer.”
“I felt like it was just meant to be. It was an opportunity I just couldn’t give up,” Manfredonia said.
Despite some fear, years of experience in the retail industry prepared her for the undertaking. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, worked as a buyer for Federated Department Stores and later took a job with Macy’s in their cosmetics division.
In the 1990s, when Manfredonia observed the national downturn in the brick-and-mortar retail industry, she decided to branch out and explore the web. She took a job as a director of customer service and training for a small, start-up luxury catalog company where she gained valuable hands-on experience.
After the storefront’s fateful beginning in 2012, Pippy&Lily saw a rocky start due to an unforeseeable event: Superstorm Sandy.
“The same month I was going to open, the superstorm hit,” she said. “I sat on a chair and looked at the front window and I saw all these trees in people’s homes. And I thought, ‘Oh no, no one prepared me for this.'”
In the following weeks, Manfredonia decided to send out a call on social media, encouraging locals to not only stop in and check out the business, but to use the space as a place to warm up, have a cup of coffee and relax.
“They didn’t have heat, some of these people. They were getting ready for Thanksgiving,” she said. “So I said, ‘Come say hello. Let’s get to know one other.'”
After a few more weeks, neighbors began to trickle in, citing the impact of the storm for their delay.
“There’s an amazing group of people in this neighborhood,” Manfredonia said. “Not only in this vicinity, but in Whitestone, Bayside, Auburndale — they come in from the whole area.”
Today, customers can find a selection of women’s clothing and accessories at the boutique. Manfredonia initially stocked a larger selection of home wares and a smaller selection of clothing; however, she found customers were looking more for the opposite.
The business owner adapted, scaling back her home decor and bringing in a more diverse range of products including tops, jeans, sweaters, jewelry and handbags. All products are unique and hand-selected from local trade shows and online vendors. Many wares are produced by female entrepreneurs, local vendors or those who donate a portion of proceeds to charitable organizations, Manfredonia noted.
“I pride myself on having a lot of vendors in the store that made things by hand and by women entrepreneurs. I’m really passionate about that,” she said.
Like other similar businesses, the overall climate of the brick-and-mortar retail industry is a macro issue that Pippy&Lily encounters. To combat this, Manfredonia offers shoppers something that e-commerce titans like Amazon can’t: a personalized shopping experience.
“The internet has really given us a challenge. But it doesn’t scare me,” she said. “I do what Amazon doesn’t do. I’ll figure out what they don’t do and I’ll do it.”
Manfredonia offers customers free gift wrapping in eye-catching prints. She also offers what she calls “experience events” with some frequency, inviting patrons in for social occasions like “Ladies Night” or musical gatherings.
“I think I have to do more things here that aren’t so much selecting more products, but having [customers] experience something here,” she said.
A personable shopping experience is another approach Manfredonia takes to stay competitive against the big chains and other local businesses.
“I feel like the internet is not personal. People don’t want to sit in their homes and shop for everything,” she said. “Customer service is one of the main things we need to be great at.”
On a local scale, the business contends with low foot traffic. The storefront sits on a small commercial strip, flanked by a pharmacy and nail salon, in an otherwise residential area.
“I knew I had to build [the business] from the bottom. And I knew I wasn’t in a high-trafficked walking street. So you can’t just sit there and wait for [customers] to come,” she said.
A strong social media presence is one of the ways the owner tries to get more new customers into the store and keep returning customers engaged. On platforms like Facebook and Instagram, she posts about Pippy&Lily’s new arrivals, special events and giveaway promotions.
Manfredonia also stays engaged with the community. She offers local schools and organizations goods or a community space for fundraisers. She also hosts charitable events like National Donor Day, which seeks to increase awareness about organ donation.
The future looks bright for Pippy&Lily, according to the business owner.
“My business plan was that you should be able to buy a few things in my store and not spend over $100. And so far, it’s pretty true,” she said.