Long Island is home to businesses that have seen it all: changing technology, fickle trends, devastating damage, and of course, a pandemic. But with the help of loyal customers and plenty of persistence, many have stood the test of time.
Here's a look at four that are among Long Island's oldest retail stores, and what they've done to make it this far.
Looney Tunes Record Store
Karl Groeger Jr. started working in his father’s record store when he was 6 years old. He would bag merchandise and even miss school on big album release days to lend a hand. He remembers one in particular: it was a Led Zeppelin album.
"There was nothing I ever wanted to do other than this," says Groeger, of Holtsville. "It was always my plan to buy the store from my dad and take it over with my brother, Jamie, ever since we were little kids. It’s in our blood."
Karl Groeger Sr. opened Looney Tunes Record Store in 1971, after graduating from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He founded the store on three principles, his son says: wide selection of music, low discount prices and friendly customer service.
When the sons took it over in 1990 after their father retired, they continued to concentrate on those goals: "It’s still the backbone of the store," Groeger notes.
In addition to CDs and vinyl records, the store offers concert posters, band T-shirts and more. There’s also a stage in the center — they hold concerts and autograph signings featuring local talent and big draws. Former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider (who grew up in Baldwin) recently stopped by to sign copies of his new album.
"Nurturing the Long Island music scene is important to us," Groeger says. "We have a big responsibility to do the best we can for them."
In the past 50 years, some things haven’t changed at all. Customers still avidly seek out vinyls. In fact, the store held a "Record Store Day" event in July, featuring a large offering of rare vinyls for sale. Groeger says it brought in 2,000 people over the course of the day, with 400 lined up outside before 6 a.m.
"I think vinyl records will be here for quite some time," he adds. "I think they’re gonna continue to grow."
Of course, adaptation has been necessary in this business, too — from reel-to-reel, to cassettes, to CDs. They even sold mp3 downloads for a while.
The store suffered a fire in 2007. It was caused by a faulty extension cord powering a neon sign in the storefront window.
"People were telling us to take the insurance money and go do something else," Groeger says. "We thought, there’s no way we’re gonna let a fire destroy our family legacy."
So, the Groegers rebuilt. "We literally had to repour concrete on the ground," he says. "That’s how bad the fire was."
But in a way, it provided them with a clean slate. Groeger worked with a construction company to bring his vision to life, from the angles of the CD racks to the counter placement. After a challenge like that, nothing could stop Looney Tunes — not even a pandemic. They started selling merchandise online, and now things have "slowly gotten back to normal" with the help of loyal customers.
On a recent summer day, Groeger looked out the window of his business. "I see a guy who’s been coming here for 30 years," he says. "Back in the day, we had a ton of amazing customers. Those customers brought in their kids. And now, those customers are bringing in their grandkids."
And Groeger’s kids work in the store now, too.
"We know a lot of customers by name and try to do the best by our customers as we can," he says. "That’s really the key to a successful business, for 50 years."
Blum’s Swimwear and Intimate Apparel
That big Blum’s sign has been a staple in Patchogue since 1968, proclaiming its legacy in neon letters. But the store has been around Long Island since 1927, making it one of our oldest retail businesses.
Beyond that storefront, there’s merchandise that has evolved and expanded to keep up with all kinds of shapes and sizes.
More than 90 years ago, Molly and Arthur Blum moved from Brooklyn to Patchogue to start a business. At first they focused on menswear, but toward the end of 1927, the store began carrying women’s clothing: dresses, coats, suits and more.
In the 1960s, Blum’s had four locations across the Island: Bay Shore, Hempstead, Garden City and Patchogue. Eventually, they consolidated into one, moving thrice in Patchogue before settling into their current location in 1968.
And as Main Street became a bustling hub of small businesses, restaurants and nightlife, Blum’s hasn’t budged.
Marc Siegel is the grandchild of Molly and Arthur Blum. After his parents, Abie and Bernice Siegel, retired from running the store, he took it over. Siegel co-owns it with Cherie Alleyne, who came on board in 1999.
In 2014, when Patchogue Village really started to "come alive," Blum’s got a modern makeover, Alleyne says. The front window provides a clearer view into the shop, and that neon fixture now provides extra signage around back.
Blum’s focuses on swimwear and intimate apparel.
"As Suffolk started to develop and the big-box stores started to come out, we had a lot of competition," says Alleyne, of Babylon. "And we realized that swimwear was doing quite well. A lot of the big-box stores carry swimwear only seasonally. So we said we’ll carry it year-round, because a lot of people travel in the winter months."
As for intimate apparel, Alleyne says Blum’s is fulfilling another need — many larger retailers only offer bras up to a double-D cup size.
"The other girls nowadays are an E, F or G. So they know they can come here and find it," she says.
For swimwear, Blum’s carries size two through 30. Their bras go up to an N cup, and a 54 band size.
"We carry for everybody," Alleyne says.
Oftentimes customers will come in and tell Alleyne, "My mother brought me here to buy my first bra." She says generations of women keep coming back to Blum’s.
And just like that, the store has celebrated its 93rd anniversary — and counting.
"We’re hoping we can make it to our 100th anniversary," says Alleyne. "We’re not looking to expand. We just want to make sure that we keep the store going and adapt to our customers’ needs."
What started as one piece of property in Hempstead has now become a longtime business grown by two families of florists.
Joseph Feldis built a greenhouse and flower shop in 1922, called Feldis Florists. There were locations in Hempstead, Garden City and finally, Merrick. According to its website, it's now one of the region’s oldest and largest florists.
In 2019, the business was purchased by married couple Pete and Jennifer McBride. Their family has owned Colonial Flower Shop for decades, with several locations across Long Island.
Now, Feldis Florists is based in North Bellmore, combined with a Colonial Flower Shop location. The Merrick building is being used for production.
"With all the challenges with COVID in retail, including labor issues, we decided to combine them together into one company," Pete McBride says. "One store, to keep the Feldis name alive."
The shop sells fresh flowers, indoor and outdoor plants, and gifts to complement floral arrangements, such as teddy bears and chocolates. Big competitors have caused the shop to focus more on their online presence, which is now a "driving force of the business," McBride says.
Still, the customers that come in are local and loyal, and are just as excited to be there as McBride is to see them.
"Computer customers are faceless," he says. "For us, it’s very different. People are on the phone with us day after day, thanking us for being there."
Particularly during the pandemic, many Long Islanders turned to their business as a way to connect with the loved ones they couldn’t see in person.
"Everything was so much more emotional," McBride says. "The fact that they called a florist and didn't think we were there, and then they were able to reach out and touch somebody without actually touching them, it was amazing to experience that."
Moments like that helped Feldis Florists make a "strong recovery," he adds.
"Since then, a lot of people have been rediscovering the industry and reengaging with local florists in a way that we haven't seen in many years."
Looking ahead, McBride is confident that business will keep blooming.
"To survive 100 years, it takes a lot of iterations of a business," he says. "I think that's the reason the name is still around: the Feldis family and our family were willing to make the big changes that need to happen in order to survive and thrive."
Vastra Indian boutique
Opened in 1997, Vastra was among the first Indian clothing boutiques in Hicksville. It’s owned by Poonam Jain, who studied fashion design in India and now lives in the area.
Her daughter, Prachi Jain, started working in the boutique when she was 13 years old. "There used to be a lot of these Indian and cultural festivals, and my mom would always put up a stall," says Jain, who now lives in Boston. "I was always helping my mom with it. I grew up with it."
Jain went on to study marketing at Hofstra University. Since then, she’s helped her mother come up with a brand for the boutique, something that sets it apart from other similar businesses that have popped up in the area.
It’s twofold: Vastra caters their selection toward various South Asian communities, as opposed to focusing on just Indian clothing, and they offer a rental service, Jain says. She adds that they’re the first Indian boutique on Long Island to provide this service.
"Everything in India is an art form," she says. "Back in the day, people took pride in their clothing and the artisans who created it."
The attire — sarees, lenghas and more — is handmade or embroidered by machine. The prices can be high, Jain says. That's where the rental option comes in.
"We realized for people who are going to one Indian wedding, buying a dress that’s $2,000 is not feasible necessarily," she says. "We’re trying to lead the way on sustainability. It’s a great move toward being environmentally conscious and of course easier on the budget for a lot of people."
Jain’s mother designs the clothing, and Vastra works with a factory in New Delhi and a team to create it all. They started the rental service three years ago.
"In the beginning, my mom certainly wanted it to be very luxurious, and now she's more inclusive for every budget," Jain says.
Vastra attracts people from as far away as New Jersey. They have plenty of regular customers, and also welcome those who admire the fashion and want to incorporate it into their own style. They’ve also added some "fusion" pieces into their merchandise, Jain adds.
"I think there are a lot of young people that drive fashion trends," Jain says. "We do make a lot of Indo Western clothing that you can just wear over jeans. We started doing that in the early 2000s."
It’s important to Jain that customers discover the stories behind their clothing. For example, some bridal dresses take up to three months to create because they’re intricately handmade, Jain says. She wants people to learn more about that creative process and why certain pieces cost as much as they do.
"What we’re bringing over from India is all very thoughtful," she says. "Certain patterns mean different things; certain embroidery comes from different regions. Unless we create a market for embroidery and the technique these artists have been using for generations, these art forms are in danger of dying."
Going forward, Jain hopes to help the boutique host informative Facebook livestreams for this purpose. "You have to share all these details with your audience and customers," she says. "That's what we hope to do — to share the story of dresses a little bit more, through social media."
Jain has learned a lot from the family business through the years, especially by watching her mother interact with other local entrepreneurs. Vastra has relocated a couple times over the years, always remaining in Hicksville. But she remembers how in one location, a nail salon owner would sometimes watch over the shop if she had to leave, or even open it up for her.
"It’s so important for other small businesses to band together," she says. "I think that's why my mom has stayed in Hicksville.
Looney Tunes Record Store: 31 Brookvale Avenue, West Babylon; looneytuneslongisland.com; 631-587-7722
Vastra Indian boutique: 535 S. Broadway, Hicksville; 516-433-7724
Blum’s Swimwear and Intimate Apparel: 27 E. Main Street, Patchogue; shopblums.com; 631-475-0136
Feldis Florists: 2510 Jerusalem Avenue, North Bellmore; feldisflorist.com; 516-771-1070