By Robin Jovanovich
Keeping a retail store’s engine running smoothly for 20 years requires savvy, taste, good listening skills, loyal salespeople, and luck. Lucky for Rye that Catherine Parker possesses those and more.
The owner of Rye’s one and only travel store says brightly, “I’ve always looked at the store as a work-in-progress!”
Parker, who is also our County Legislator, and someone you can count on to step up and head a community committee or a nonprofit in need, says her business wouldn’t have survived two floods and the 2008 Recession without the community’s support.
“Our heyday was before shoppers migrated to Amazon,” Parker acknowledges, “but thankfully many residents still value having a downtown and retail shops. Before the February school break, Christine Siller walked in, bought a ski parka here, instead of online or at the mall, and posted great things about the store. Pretty soon dozens of other people came in as a result.” She adds, “Whether it’s a nice comment on Facebook or Rye Moms, every one counts.”
Parker says she is not only fortunate to have longtime sales associates like Marlene Trienekens, who’s been with her for a dozen years, but also high school students who needed afterschool jobs and many adults between jobs. Her newest hire is Tony D’Onofrio, who helped his mom Peg run another longtime business, the Smoke Shop, for many years. Tony works weekends.
While Parker’s early focus was everything-travel, she soon ventured into lifestyle. “We’re now not only selling suitcases, we’re packing the bags!” she says with a smile. “We’re Rye’s answer to a mini department store.”
Understanding that a bricks-and-mortar store is “experiential and should be inviting and ever evolving,” Parker continues to tinker with the look and feel. Regular shoppers may know where to find the latest Briggs & Reilly bags, Barbour jackets, North Face fleeces, laminated city walking maps, and leather passport cases, but Parker also knows how to surprise us with new and fashionable clothing and accessories in unexpected spaces.
She does her best to compete with online competition. “I stock a plethora of styles and colors, but can’t afford to have the outliers. While I can get most things quickly, sometimes it’s not soon enough for the shopper who needs it that day.”
Coming soon are men’s bathing suits and an array of light and easy-to-pack travel clothing. Smart shoppers should make a point to stop by sooner to pick up the last of the great winter sale items.
Parker, who’d never worked in retail until 1995, has learned a lot about the business these 20 years. It wasn’t her first love, but travel was. “My mom, who taught school, did part of her Master’s degree in London. We traveled all over Europe.” Catherine was a high school exchange student in Sweden and while in college studied architecture and sculpture in Pietrasanta, Italy.
“I always loved researching trips in college,” recalls Parker. After college and a fair amount of traveling, she helped out a friend who was working at the Traveler’s Bookstore in the Time-Warner Building. “A light bulb went off! I talked to my parents about the idea of opening a travel store in the city. To their credit, they never blinked. All my dad said was: ‘You need a business plan.’”
In the ensuing “364 days,” Parker worked at the Civilized Traveler in Manhattan and learned “what not to do.”
Confident that she could own and run a travel store of her own, Parker started looking at retail space in the city, but an inner voice told her it was time to come home to Westchester, where she was born and raised.
“Finding out that the former Greeley House space was vacant, I called the building owner on a lark,” she explains, and the rest is good retail history.
Catherine Parker flanked by her mother, Barbara Dannenberg, and longtime sales associate Marlene Trienekens