Especially Yours

Nomination from Laura Reinersten

It is my great pleasure to nominate Mrs. Cindy Southern and her business “Especially Yours” as a Union County Small Business Community Champion. After careful consideration I firmly believe Mrs. Southern is not only eligible but highly deserving this recognition.

Local organizations know Especially Yours can be counted on for fundraiser donations, either in services or wonderful gift items and Mrs. Southern’s generosity does not stop there. Holidays provide opportunities to celebrate with the community and Cindy knows how to bring people together! Easter and Christmas events are particularly looked forward to as the Easter Bunny and Santa can always be counted on for a visit. Those visits did not stop in 2020, they looked different but still they celebrated. The pandemic did not stop Cindy, true to her character she adapted and rallied the community. Cindy believes in social distancing but not social isolation, so accommodations were made for her many special community events and also for daily operations.

Especially Yours celebrated their 20th Anniversary in 2020, maybe not the way they would have liked to. Her perseverance, commitment, creativity, and optimism are truly a blessing to Kenilworth. It was recently announced that she will be retiring after Santa’s 2021 visit. One can only hope lighting strikes twice and someone of Mrs. Sothern’s caliber steps into the shoes she will be leaving behind. Taking a page from her book, I look at how high she set the bar and remain hopeful.

Mrs. Cindy Southern of Especially Yours is a hard-working and an honest businesswoman who takes her work very seriously and managed to incorporate her love of her hometown of Kenilworth into her business plan with resounding success. For these reasons and so many more, Especially Yours and Mrs. Cindy are deserving of being Union County Small Business Community Champion.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

In March 2020, we were working on having the Easter Bunny in our shop, and we were fully stocked for the fun event. The end of the month, we were told we needed to close. Having so much money tied up was a tough thing to handle. I thought if I was feeling uneasy, so were my customers I decided to offer any Easter decorations for sale at half price. This would allow me to regain some finances at the shop, and also allow my customers to have fun things delivered to their doorstep contact free, and maybe make them smile as well. We did still have the Easter Bunny at the Shop, but he was outside waving to people on the street, or inside the window dancing and posing for pictures with anyone wanting to walk by.

I also decided we are all better if united in a cause. Along with my sister, I was able to make and sell red ribbons for our residents in town to display at their homes. The red ribbons were delivered contact free to anyone that reached out to order one, and with each bow a donation was made to the Kenilworth Fire Department. We made hundreds! Having the shop closed at this time, I would do anything to try to keep it going and Kenilworth was amazing in supporting that effort.
Once we were told we could be deemed essential, I moved a work table into the window of the shop. Since everyone had to be laid off, I worked by myself. No one could enter the shop, but they could come to the front door. I would meet them at a table outside, and give them flowers to take home. Some even had me bring them gift items to purchase. Where there is a will, there is a way!

By Mother’s Day, we were able to work more than one person in the shop. Continually sanitizing the shop was key. One person used the front computer and phone, another the back. We worked 6′ apart, wore masks and gloves, and installed Plexiglas screening. Our customers still met us at the door, or their car for curbside delivery. Everyone made this so easy and it worked. My customers are the best!!!
Our next big challenge would be Christmas and our Annual visit with Santa!

Normally he is inside our shop but this would not be an option.
I contacted a woodworker, who made a beautiful 8′ sleigh for Santa to sit in. We installed Plexiglas between Santa and Covid coming for a picture, and made an outdoor display. We extended the visit to two days, allowing no crowds to build up. I will say, the people that work in the shop became the key to this success. I came down with Covid and was out of work for a month. They ran this entire event flawlessly, and everyone got to visit Santa for free!!! We started planning an outdoor visit with the Easter Bunny right away. We were able to build a platform for the Bunny to sit at, make a beautiful Flowery spring backdrop, and do socially distanced visit for the children all free to the community.

Being in the flower industry, our business was really affected by Covid. We lost any weddings booked, parties were canceled, and our standing orders for churches & restaurants were halted. There were no dance recitals, no communions, and our funeral business was almost completely gone. We restructured our mindset, and buckled down, and only with the support of our town and our customers did we make it through a very tough year. We will never be where we were, but we are good….and we are grateful….and we are planning our next visit with Santa!

We have been through tough times before, and am so happy the future is looking bright.

The Greek Store

Nomination from Emmanuel Vozos

The Greek Store has been a fixture in the New Jersey community since 1950. This is a multi-generational family run business, with deep ties to the community. Small businesses like this one should be celebrated and supported, especially when they are operated by people like the Diamandas’ family, who support their community through charitable giving and support (for things like their Greek church’s festival and donations to local Alzheimer’s fundraisers).

During the chaos of Covid-19, they also suffered the loss of their patriarch, Steve, while keeping the store open though curbside pickup and trunk deliveries. Then, by hanging plastic sheets and keeping customers and staff safe while running the business and producing at-home cooking shows for social media! Lia and her team have pushed through this difficult time with resilience and positivity. Any list of Union County Small Business Community Champions would be incomplete without The Greek Store.

The Laboratory Catering

Nomination from Drew Campbell

Great locally owned restaurant where there is never a bad item on menu! The hardworking and generous owners fought hard to keep their business opened.

They did not let anything stop them and worked long hours just the two of them while their staff was furloughed. They put people before profits donating to local FLAG groups and hospitals during a financially difficult time. Their staff is always friendly and the restaurant is clean! I have tried a lot of different items on the menu and I have never had anything I did not like.

This hardworking business never stops, they also have a food truck for catering private parties along with attending events! They never waste food and are known to provide reduced priced unused food to local families in need of affordably priced meals.

I’m so happy their business has survived the pandemic!

Nomination from Nicholas Guerci

The Lab is a great place to try new things! I have to say that they took extra steps to make sure that everyone feels safe- They invested in plexi-glass dividers as an additional precaution during COVID. They focused on making their take-out the best experience.

Their social media posts kept us updated on all the amazing things they were able to do during the pandemic like the donating cooked meals to first responders.

The Dr Pepper sandwich called The Doctor is one of my favorites. He also made a mango fried rice that was great too. The owner and staff are very nice and welcoming to everyone. This is a unique restaurant that sticks out.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

We are a small restaurant/catering and solely survived this pandemic from our loyal customers.

They kept us in business throughout the whole thing. Very grateful for all the support we have received. This was a tough year for sure and also being an Asian & Black owned business made it a bit more interesting with current events.

But it’s just been 2 of us managing everything since beginning of pandemic, we have never closed down, we just kept rocking out in order to survive.

Royal Tuxedo Wholesale

Nomination from Mel Kane

The coronavirus crisis has upended life in more ways than I can count. We were getting married during this crazy time. We were advised to start thinking about a contingency plan and just like that the shutdown began. I’m going to admit this openly I am a groomzilla, we planned every detail together.

This news upset and saddened me but we had to make other plans. We divided and conquered I was tasked with contacting Royal Tuxedo about postponing our dates. The heaviness of making that call not knowing what to expect I’ll never forget. That heaviness quickly went away.

They were amazing to work with and didn’t read off postponement guidelines like the other vendors we worked with. They were supportive and ensured me things would be ok. When finally I was able to get my tux fitted, the store was by appointment only and I wasn’t worried.  I’m grateful and even though we didn’t have the large wedding we planned; my tuxedo was spot on.

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Covid crippled the event industry and our formalwear business along with others felt those effects. Proms, graduations, and weddings cancelled or postponed left us in very uncertain times. Weddings specifically even as things were better with ease of restrictions there is still the fear of postponing the couples special day. We kept in constant communication with our customers to make sure we could accommodate last minute changes in dates for their events. We eliminated any fees associated with date changes and cancellations to aid in the last minute nature of the changing conditions. Understanding times were tough financially we worked closely with our customers that owed money to make sure they could continue to operate. Working closely with them allowed us to develop unique payment terms tailored to their individual needs.

In store safety was important to us for both our customers and employees. We changed the schedule of employees to avoid and limit interactions. Some customer service was changed to at home with our new remote log in. All paperwork associated with deliveries was sent via email the night before to lessen the time a driver needed to be inside a store. We delivered to our customers 5 days earlier than normal to allow them to space out tailoring appointments. By sending out earlier deliveries this allowed them to keep the number of people in their stores low without increasing their business hours.

Understanding not only were we going through this but our suppliers were as well we took additional steps. We made sure to use as many suppliers as we could to make sure that we spread the purchases to as many companies as possible. By spreading out the purchases among various suppliers it allowed us to help as many companies as possible with cash flow. This is uncharted territory for everyone, so many vendors and businesses are being understanding of the unexpected circumstance we are in. We’re all in this together and our industry is in survival mode.

Two Ton Brewing

Nomination from Mike Stiller

I’m so glad Two Ton survived the pandemic. This small business went above and beyond to stay open.

They never really closed other than the mandatory executive order. They worked hard to stay open by offering curbside pickup and take out -which I have to say for any brewery to have their bar closed down is an automatic loss.

They put money into expanding their beer garden & created a safe environment for everyone to come back and finally relax!

Union County Small Business Community Champion’s Story

Two Ton Brewing is a family owned-and-operated craft brewery small business based out of Kenilworth, NJ. The challenges brought forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic have affected us all in various ways. Businesses across the country have been hit hard, especially small businesses.

Two Ton Brewing rose to the challenge by finding creative ways to rise to the ever changing landscape while navigating state and federal regulations to keep staff and customers as safe as possible. When Two Ton was deemed an essential business, they stayed open for curbside pick up / to go orders only which kept the business barely afloat. When outside seating was allowed again, Two Ton opened an expanded licensed beer garden to keep everyone safe and socially distanced.

Now with restrictions slowly being lifted, Two Ton is continuing to strive to be creative and reach more customers while providing a safe customer experience.