After 30 years as the go-to store for everything from collectibles to teddy bears to home decorations, Judy’s Cards and Gifts is closing its doors.
Painted window signs now promote a 50 percent off sale at the Parkwood Plaza location on Route 9, which will close permanently in early April as owner Judy Hoffman retires.
Hoffman said she and her six siblings learned to work hard from their father, Paul Hoffman, whose businesses include Hoffman’s Playland in Latham.
Judy Hoffman started her business at the age of 18 in the 1970s. “I was up against certain misconceptions about who owned stores back then,” she said. “Sales people would come and ask to talk to the owner and refuse to believe it was me. But I prevailed.”
If there are secrets to her success, Hoffman said, it’s always being ready to go with the flow and making customers feel like they’re family.
“You have to keep up with trends and make your products unique,” said Hoffman. “Also appreciate your customers. I’ve had some of the same customers for 30 years. People are coming in out of the woodwork to tell me how much they’ll miss the store.”
Proponents of women-owned businesses at the local and statewide level said Hoffman’s long, successful run can be an example for other women entrepreneurs.
“Judy is exactly what it’s all about; she had a presence in town that was undeniable,” said Colleen Tyll, owner of Kapital Title and Abstract Services in Clifton Park and previous president of the local Business and Professional Women’s association (BPW). Tyll is also a development committee member on the statewide BPW.
While the number of women-owned businesses, both service-related and retail, is not declining in New York state, Tyll said, the demographics of BPW members has changed dramatically. A few years ago, the age range of women in the associations was 25 to 65; now it’s rare to find women over 55, and more members are professional women rather than entrepreneurs.
“Membership is definitely changing,” said Tyll. “We’re finding a lot of younger attorneys or women in certain professions rather than new or established business owners.”
One reason for the change may be that more women are joining local chambers of commerce, where networking and business card exchanges are becoming a regular, sometimes necessary activity. “There is a need to get your name out there, but the BPW associations help women with personal, professional and political growth,” said Tyll. “Women need to be politically savvy, and there aren’t a lot of places to learn this.”
In fact, one of the key components in the BPW mission statement is to bring about a spirit of cooperation among the businesses.
Representatives from BPW associations across the state will convene next week in Binghamton to map out a plan local chapters can use to recruit new members.
Could a newly launched retail business find the same success Hoffman has seen?
“These are extremely competitive times,” said Tyll. “Women working in service-oriented businesses have an advantage over those starting up retail stores. They have to work for every customer and develop a loyal following. Judy did this.”
Hoffman owns the storefront and said she’s very close to signing a new tenant. Although she couldn’t make an announcement yet, she did say the site will no longer be retail.