SEA ISLE CITY - Colleen Falcone spent her career helping to improve stores as a regional troubleshooter for a department store.
Falcone cultivated a dream of one day running her own business, a store where she could bring her years of experience to bear in a place, Sea Isle City, where she spent idyllic summers as a child.
In 2008, after years of looking for the right location and timing her career change, she opened Groovy Girlz on Landis Avenue.
"The first day, my family was standing on the sidewalk outside. It was awesome. We were all crying," she said. "Coming into Sea Isle felt like home."
On a recent weekday, her mother, Eileen Sulpazo, also of Sea Isle City, stopped in to try on some new Pierre Dumas shoes.
The shop offers clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry and accessories for women. "Our store motto is whether you're 5 or 95, there's a groovy girl in all of us," she said.
Falcone does her own buying for her store, mostly through trips to the Garment District in New York. That is a fun part of the job, she said.
"You find great treasures in these wholesalers," she said. "It's like Christmas. I go shopping and find things I truly love. Then I can't wait to get them to my store to show my customers, 'Look what I found.' I get excited about it."
She closely follows fashion industry trends to keep tabs on what's popular.
She carries some name-brand items, such as the popular OKA b. sandals. But most of her items are hand-picked from smaller manufacturers.
Choosing the right inventory is crucial, but can be hit or miss.
"It's a big gamble - a huge gamble," she said. "But that's what sales are for. Someone will love it. They always do."
Women's fashion is a $42 billion industry, according to the market-research company IbisWorld. But like all segments of the retail industry, it contracted following the recession. IbisWorld predicts retail sales will improve as consumer confidence rebounds and people do more discretionary spending.
In 2012, she opened a second women's store a block north on Landis Avenue called It's a Girlz Thing.
Now she divides her time between the two, but never to her satisfaction.
"I can't split myself in two. It would be great if I could be at both stores at once. If I'm at one store, I feel like I'm not spending enough time at the other," she said.
The biggest lesson she learned from her department store days was about working hard.
"You learn a work ethic. At the shore, you still need to work hard. It might be a fun environment, but it's still a job," she said.
Falcone is a board member of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce. She said the city's business community is especially collegial, helping each other out whenever possible.
"You can ask someone else if you run out of (cash) register tape. I've provided shopping bags to my neighbors before," she said. "Everyone works together."
The chamber sponsors a twice-annual Girls Weekend with specials for women at 40 participating spas, restaurants and retail stores such as Falcone's.
"It's a chance for women to eat, drink, shop and be merry," she said.
Such special events are valuable to businesses in a seasonal resort town. Falcone closes after New Year's and reopens briefly for the popular Polar Bear Plunge in February before reopening for the rest of the year in March, early by shore standards.
"The shoulder seasons are good. The weather in September and October is phenomenal," she said.
Contact Michael Miller:
Groovy Girlz and It's a Girlz Thing
Locations: 4110 and 4209 Landis Ave., Sea Isle City
Owner: Colleen Falcone, of Sea Isle City
Started: 2008; second store in 2012
Employees: 20 seasonally
Revenue: Not disclosed