On the day City Discount Clothing opened on Washington Street in February 1969, Hoboken was pounded with one of the worst blizzards in recent memory. The store’s present owner, Theresa Castellano, was in college at the time, but was on hand to watch her parents cut the ribbon on the store for the first time. She remembered thinking was the storm was a bad omen, and suggested to her father that they postpone the opening until a sunny day.
“But he wanted to go through with it, so we did, and we haven’t closed since,” she said this week.
This year is a special one for Castellano, the city councilwoman who took over the tiny Washington Street shop soon after her father passed away. The store is celebrating its 45th anniversary, catapulting it into an elite group of Hoboken businesses that have lasted so long.
“Other stores will mark a $10 shirt up to $75, but we won’t even come close to that.” – Theresa Castellano
So, what’s the secret?
“I try not to get too enamored with any fads, nothing too trendy. We carry them, but I don’t rely on them to stay in business,” says Castellano. “People like classic, and the nice thing about classic looks is that they’re always in fashion.”
The store, at 207 Washington St., is cozy and lined from shelf to shelf with a wide variety of women’s clothing items and accessories. Its name evokes the idea of a thrift shop, but everything in the store is new. Much of it is name-brand; it’s just not nearly as expensive as anywhere else – Castellano’s other secret to staying in business.
“Sometimes I’ll take people to the showrooms with me in New York, and they’ll be shocked at the prices you get when you buy wholesale,” she said. “The difference is, other stores will mark a $10 shirt up to $75, but we won’t even come close to that.”
City Discount has remained largely unchanged since it opened its doors 45 years ago, giving its cozy interior an air of authenticity in a business district with many changing storefronts.
“It’s so sad when businesses don’t make it, because people are so enthusiastic,” said Castellano, who represents the city’s 1st Ward including the southern waterfront. “People have said we should change a bit, maybe the name or something, but I’m a bit superstitious.”
And even though Castellano’s business strategy is to focus on classic looks, she says that reinventing the store is never a bad idea.
“We try to keep a good mix between classic and trendy,” she said. “Sometimes people will come in because they see something in the window that’s very in right now, then they see some of our more traditional stuff and end up leaving with a big bargain.”
Staying flexible with your products and never getting stuck in too much of a rhythm is a key component of running a successful business, she said.
“You can’t pigeonhole yourself, but you have to keep in mind what sells, what doesn’t, and what is always selling no matter what’s in fashion,” she said. “The trick to running a successful business isn’t always selling something for four or five times more than you paid for it.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org