On Oct. 28, Paper Chase Gifts owner Janey Feldman was just seven months away from celebrating the start of her 20th year in downtown Margate. A day later, after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, she wasn't sure if she'd ever open again.
Only about a foot of water made it into the shop, but it was enough to cost Feldman more than $100,000 in damage and lost inventory. With only a fraction of her losses covered by insurance, she didn't know how to begin picking up the pieces. Fortunately for her, the Paper Chase family did.
Customers came in to salvage inventory. Co-workers and family members cleaned and rebuilt. Longtime suppliers donated display tables and cases to replace broken ones. On Memorial Day, Paper Chase Gifts will begin its 20th year - and it's all thanks to the community.
"It sounds weird, but it really was the spirit of all these people that made me feel that I had to try to open and go forward," Feldman said.
Feldman started Paper Chase in 1978 as a custom event invitation business she ran out of her Margate home. In 1994, when her daughter left for college, Feldman moved the business to a storefront off Ventnor Avenue in downtown Margate and expanded to include gifts. In 2000, she moved the store to its current location at 8000 Ventnor Ave.
While the cornerstone of Paper Chase is still its personalized invitations for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other events, it also stocks a wide variety of gifts for all budgets and occasions, from novelty magnets and personalized pillows to handcrafted steel serving sets.
Paper Chase is known as much for its inventory as for its welcoming atmosphere. Feldman's dogs, a pair of cavachons named Maggie and Joey, roam the store as its mascots, and the staff is on a first-name basis with many customers.
Heidi Grutzmacher is a retired schoolteacher from Philadelphia who has summered in Margate with her husband since 2001 and moved to the city permanently last fall. She is a frequent Paper Chase patron, and one of those who helped Feldman get the place up and running after the storm.
It's the combination of the store's offerings and its personality that made her want to help out, Grutzmacher said.
"They're very helpful," Grutzmacher said. "I've never gone in there to pick out a gift and come out empty-handed. It's a nice little store and the people are nice."
While the store was in good enough shape to reopen just six weeks after the storm, it has been a long journey back to full normalcy, and Feldman only got the last section of her inventory - her expansive greeting card collection - in place the week before Mother's Day.
Not only is Paper Chase now fully operational, it's even improved. The new displays are nicer than those it had before, and the store's layout is more open and streamlined, staff said.
When customers who haven't seen the store since before the storm enter for the first time, they're impressed, employee Michael Speranzella said.
"They love it," he said. "As soon as they walk in the door, the first thing they say is, 'Oh my god, how beautiful.'"
Feldman still has to implement a few layout tweaks and finish some repairs to damaged walls and fixtures, but Paper Chase is for all intents and purposes back.
It's still the off season for the store, which like other shops in the area doesn't hit its peak until after Memorial Day, but business has been steady. With the summer just on the horizon, Feldman is glad her doors are still open.
"I think it's going to be a wonderful summer, a wonderful summer," Feldman said. "I have to believe it's going to be a bright future."
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