GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — A gift and holiday shop must look the part to appeal to customers — from rows of decorations and Christmas trees to holiday music playing over the radio.
The same holds true for Halloween, when cornstalks, haystacks and pumpkins adorned Mystical Enchantment Garden Center on New York Road in Galloway Township.
“Having the place decorated, having the music going, puts you more in the mood,”said owner Diane Corbo, 53, of Galloway.
The shop can sell from 300 to 800 Christmas trees — some as tall as 14 feet — between Thanksgiving and Dec. 24, she said.
As with others in retail, Corbo said, the economy has affected her business. She began seeing signs of a turnaround this year, but several harsh storms in the region — and especially Hurricane Sandy — took a big toll.
“I was starting to see signs of improvement until Sandy came along, and then it went right back down. But it was starting to get better,” she said. “Once Sandy came, she brought a hurting.”
A recent poll on consumer confidence — which can translate to future spending habits — reached a positive note this week, but also reflected the storm’s effects.
The Conference Board’s confidence index reached 73.7, its highest point in nearly four years, Bloomberg News reported this week. However, areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, including New Jersey, experienced a drop, Bloomberg reported.
Corbo said she is ready for the economy to rebound.
“I have a lot of loyal customers who come here because they want to keep me in business, they want to make sure I’m still here tomorrow,” she said.
Christmas trees are a popular draw at this time of year.
“People are looking for the nicer shaped trees, the ones with the nicer smells and the ones that don’t lose their needles,” she said, noting the Fraser firs are particularly sought after this time of year.
A tree can be purchased at Mystical Enchantment in several different forms, including cut trees that are shipped in weekly from out-of-state; trees at the store’s own tree farm; and live trees that can be planted in the spring, which has become more popular recently, she said.
Corbo first became a business owner in 2003, starting a small candle and gift shop in a building that had contained several separate businesses.
After those other shops closed, Corbo expanded into the space, carried more items and her shop turned into a garden center.
The expansion brought a unique set of challenges, particularly as she began carrying more and more flowers and plants. She had to teach herself about horticulture.
“That was a lot of hit and miss. And we really learned as we went,” she said. “I found some of the people I bought from would tell me one thing, and I would learn it was another. ... They would tell me it’s a sun lover and it would need more shade.”
Corbo also makes items, including grave blankets and table centerpieces.
Corbo came into the business from a different background — she was a bartender for years and had even worked as a Playboy bunny at the former Playboy Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, she said.
Yet this background and her personality translated well to retail, she said.
“Anybody can be a business owner, but it’s knowing how to deal with the public. What made me so adaptable to it is being in the bar business all my life, because you’re around people,” she said. “It’s not what you have that makes you a business person. ... It’s how you make them feel at home when they walk in the door.”
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