Despite an estimated eight empty storefronts in downtown Nazareth, at least two borough businesses have remained steady for 25 years.
They include Mycalyn Florals/Lynn’s Florist, 30 S. Main St., owned by Lynn Klein, and Pollyanna Sparrow, an optometrist who works out of 34 S. Main St.
Additionally, business owner Barbara Werkheiser in 2011 brought back Nazareth Hardware, 49 S. Main St. The store had been a staple when Klein and Sparrow opened their doors in 1989, but closed its doors around 2008.
All three say it’s taken constant marketing, finding ways to beat out big box stores and reinventing themselves to keep these original businesses on Main Street.
Klein, of Nazareth, recalled juggling two jobs when she visited her sister, an employee at the former Unger’s Florist, then owned by Tony Unger. Klein had a different vision for the shop and wasn’t afraid to tell Unger about it.
It needed more arrangements on display, gift items and had to be the hot spot in town for those wanting to express a sentiment, Klein said. She recalled telling her sister: “Tell Tony, if he ever wants to sell it …”
Six months later, Klein was shaking hands with Tony in a business deal and later changing the sign on the front door to “Lynn’s Florist.”
Klein said what kept her cash register ringing through the years was finding ways to keep flowers lasting longer — something her competitors didn’t do their homework on.
The result was tripling sales within a few years and quadrupling sales within five years. By her third year, she was setting up makeshift tables in parking lots to meet the demand and by her fifth year, she was forced to move into a larger shop directly across the street.
“Give them something they can’t find anywhere else and they will come,” Klein said.
Sparrow, then 26 and living in Plainfield Township, had just graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1989. She visited the small, quaint town of Nazareth and envisioned starting up a practice in the downtown.
“I actually signed my lease before I got my license,” she said.
For Sparrow, it was the chance to work with patients on a one-on-one basis at her own practice rather than working at a larger healthcare facility. She grew the business with quick turnover in the waiting room, instant appointments and a friendly, comfortable atmosphere, she said.
Sparrow went from no patients to 40 patients weekly within the first couple years, she said.
“It just boomed though word of mouth,” she said.
Working for yourself
Despite a weak economy, more and more women are giving it a try as an entrepreneur, experts say.
More than 9.1 million women in 2014 are reported to have owned businesses nationally, according to the second annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN.
Julie Weeks, author of the State of Women-Owned Businesses report, said there no longer is such a thing as “stereotypical female-owned businesses,” such as hair salons and boutiques. One of the fastest growing sectors is educational services, according to Weeks.
For florists such as Klein, Weeks said she has seen the floral industry expand its brand to become more successful, such as by decorating in office buildings and shopping malls.
Others find success in revamping existing businesses.
Werkheiser, a Nazareth native with a culinary background, recalled walking past Nazareth Hardware with her grandparents as a child. She couldn’t bear to see it empty any longer.
Werkheiser found a business partner in childhood friend, Mike Meixsell, and the pair renamed the store “Nazareth Hometown Hardware” in April 2011.
The co-owners had the support of the store’s late original owner, Warren Dech, who gave them the original hooks, pegs and shelving. Modern merchandise today hangs from the vintage displays, Werkheiser said.
“We started from scratch to bring it back,” she recalled. “There used to be all these grocery stores in downtown Nazareth, five-and-dimes, a furniture store and a diner. And then there was the hardware store. Back then, we had it all.”
The trio said challenges come with operating their own businesses.
If Klein had to do it all over again in 2014, she said there would be serious obstacles in getting the floral shop off the ground.
“Back then it was easy,” Klein said. “Today, if you need a loan, banks won’t even look at you. People can travel five minutes to a big box store in search of the same stuff.”
It took Sparrow two years to make a profit and it took Klein about five years. In 2014, it could take even longer, they say.
When the recession hit around 2008, Klein said it hit her business hard.
Gas prices soared to $4 a gallon, increased prices in food led folks to apply for food stamps and companies began laying off employees. Flowers were a luxury fallen by the wayside, Klein recalled, noting regular, drop-in customers she had seen daily became strangers.
Klein found herself also having to cut back on spending and downsizing to keep the business thriving. She tapped into social security funds and advertised through word of mouth. At parties, she handed out business cards.
“Within six months, we saw our sales drop $125,000,” Klein recalled. “We cut back hours, we eliminated wire services. We went to the mattresses.”
“Closing wasn’t an option. I already invested 20 years in this.”
Sparrow said while patients kept up with their vision appointments during the recession, many delayed the purchase of new eyeglasses, which can cost upward of $200.
“Some would wait even six months to get their prescriptions filled,” she recalled.
Werkheiser admitted revamping the store was a gamble, but it was one she was willing to take. She feared the opportunity would pass her by, she said.
“Half my house is riding on this,” Werkheiser said.
To keep the store thriving in what Werkheiser hopes will be another 25 years, she brings the mom-and-pop personal touch to the business. She also keeps most of her prices lower than larger, chain establishments, she said.
And Werkheiser enjoys meeting new faces.
“Although owning a small business is a daily challenge, it also has great rewards,” she said.
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