When Peggy Zieran and Carol Hoenig opened Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine in Rockville Centre a year ago, the first-time business owners never imagined their biggest challenge would be road construction.
The combination bookstore/wine bar, whose name is a play on the title of an 1898 novella by Henry James, launched last October. The two-floor shop, which hosts frequent readings and book discussion groups, includes a cafe that serves wine, beer, coffee, sandwiches and other light fare.
Business was looking good for most of their first year in operation, Zieran and Hoenig said, but after extensive municipal road and electrical work limited customer access to their storefront, the shop faced its greatest challenge.
“September was our worst month yet,” said Zieran, who previously worked as general manager at Borders Books in Syosset. Road closures along North Park Avenue, the street where the shop is located, made it difficult for customers to get there. Construction directly in front of the store is now largely completed, but the work still hinders access elsewhere along the street. “It’s really hurt us quite a bit,” Zieran said.
The store, which employed 10 part-timers before the construction, is down to four part-time workers.
The road work, part of the village’s focus on infrastructure updates, has included the installation and rerouting of new gas lines, water mains and underground electrical wiring, as well as the addition of new streetlights, sidewalks and decorative brickwork.
“The process is painful,” Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray said. Work on North Park Avenue began in May and is expected to wrap up within four weeks. Murray said while the construction can be “a tough thing to go through” for local small businesses, the work being done is necessary and will be beneficial for residents and businesses for years to come.
“This is important because the water mains are 80 to 100 years old,” said Murray, whose administration has overseen roughly 3 miles of residential infrastructure updates annually since his election. “This is all for now and the future.”
While Zieran and Hoenig support the village and its efforts to make needed updates, the loss in revenue has been great, Hoenig said. To combat the lost sales and mounting business expenses, the partners turned to GoFundMe, an online fundraising platform.
As of Oct. 19, the fundraiser has generated $6,445 of its $75,000 goal.
“We did not want to ask for financial help, but it was either that or close shop, and we’re not willing to do that,” said Hoenig, former national events coordinator for Borders and a part-time publishing consultant. The funds received so far have kept them current with rent and other bills, she said.
In addition, Hoenig used the shop’s Facebook page to keep customers advised of the current road status and encourage them to park on neighboring streets in order to stop by.
Owners of other nearby shops are doing their best to cope as well.
“When they did the sidewalk we were answering the phone, but we were closed for three days,” said Izabela Saboski, owner of Colour Bar Hair, a specialty salon down the street from Turn of the Corkscrew. “It was a ghost town here.”
Given the Island’s aging downtowns, construction and infrastructure updates are likely to continue challenging small businesses.
“This happens, and it’s going to continue to happen,” said Erica Chase-Gregory, regional director for the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College. She said it’s important for business owners to be proactive and find ways to stay connected with consumers.
“My advice for any downtown business is to plan with the municipalities for these things,” Chase-Gregory said.
Social media outreach, increased marketing efforts, aggressive sales or discounts and off-site pop up locations can all be useful in letting customers know a business is still operating, she said.
For Turn of the Corkscrew, the exposure created by the GoFundMe campaign and the store’s social media presence has kept the community aware of its dire situation — and brought in new customers, Hoenig said. “The community response is giving us a lot of hope.
“As long as we don’t get thrown a curveball, I think we should be OK,” she said. “Granted, it’s not going to be easy.”
At a glance
Name: Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine, Rockville Centre
Owners: Peggy Zieran and Carol Hoenig
Employees: 4 part-time