On a weather-perfect weekend afternoon in early November I strolled down Main Street in Northport, soaking up the atmosphere. People were out in droves, chatting, socializing, shopping and spending.
A small hubbub was happening outside 135 Main Street. Inside, Nest on Main was marking its first anniversary. The store, a home décor outlet with a different kind of business model, is winning over fans big time. A crowd had gathered for a ribbon-cutting presided over by Northport’s exuberant village trustee and deputy mayor, Tom Kehoe.
Inside the store various crafters, artisans and vendors were greeting new arrivals, chatting casually, offering coffee and snacks. Shoppers passed among the artisanal foods, knitted hats and clothing, floral arrangements, photographic prints and paintings of local scenes.
The line at the store’s single cash register — management handles sales so individual vendors don’t have to — stretched toward the back. People chatted with their neighbors while on line beneath a collection of paintings.
A scenario like this you don’t see that often. It recalls the days before shopping mall domination and online retailing hammered downtown merchants.
For nearly a century the 3,100 square feet of space had been Ingerman’s Department Store, a Norman Rockwell-ish place of pressed-tin ceilings and oak floors. Times changed. Ingerman’s moved out, a variety store moved in. The variety store closed. Last October Donna and Tony Moschella moved in with a new concept. Instead of leasing space and filling it with merchandise, they leased space and filled it with vendors and artisans.
The idea came to Donna, a former retail buyer, after a visit to the Chelsea Market in New York about a decade ago. She saw how shoppers enjoyed the experience of being in the market, rather than simply making transactions. Donna had changed careers, built up a medical-billing business, then sold the business and retired. Tony was planning to retire as a school psychologist in Queens.
The Moschellas sold their home in Dix Hills and moved to Northport, drawn by the harbor community’s vibrant downtown and waterfront. They moved in just before Hurricane Sandy. Despite that, Northport seemed the perfect place for the market she envisioned.
“I never had to recruit vendors,” Donna says. “People heard what I was doing, and approached me to be part of it.”
Judging from the turnout for the one-year anniversary, the Nest is thriving. What exactly are they doing right?
I spotted at least two main things. One is fostering cooperation among the vendors, whom Donna calls nesters.
“If I have a mantra, it’s cooperation over competition,” Donna says. “Whenever a nester promotes something new on social media, they use the Nest hashtag. Everyone shares their news with everyone else’s followings.”
The Moschellas have also positioned their market as The Great Good Place as described in Ray Oldenburg’s book — the kind of community center Martha Stewart might run if she were to let her hair down. Locals register for floral arranging, knitting, crocheting, and mozzarella cheese-making classes.
“The Nest brings people together,” says Donna. “There’s a tremendous sense of community in Northport and we help add to that.” Their son Michael works in the store part-time.
I spoke with Krishtia McCord, who with her mother Mary Schlotter owns Harbor Homestead & Co., a floral and event design business. They’re one of three mother-daughter pairings in the Nest retail scene.
“I heard about them through word of mouth,” McCord says. “Donna had put out flyers on Main Street talking about opening a market for local makers and artists. My mother and I decided to take a little space. It’s worked out great.”
She estimates their approximately 70-square-foot space produces more than $1,000 in revenue a month.
Northport’s Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe is a big fan.
“They’re doing very well and I’m just delighted,” he says, noting that the vibrant downtown bolsters property values.
“Retail is challenging irrespective of where you are,” he adds. “Retailers all around the world are struggling. There are a number of reasons, but the big one is the Internet. There has been a tremendous increase in Internet sales. Communities need successful retail on Main Street to thrive. Stores like Nest on Main keep downtowns vibrant, doing just what they’re doing.”