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November 10, 2008

Westchester Business Journal


The Curtain Shop, a small, independent retailer on Main Street, is a New Rochelle success story in the face of big box retail.

“I think our type of store is coming back,” said co-owner Robert Kaessinger. “Customers don’t want to go to malls. That was good 10 or 12 years ago; everybody went to the malls, now when new shopping areas open, they try to make them look more like a downtown than a shopping mall.”

Kaessinger opened The Curtain Shop on April 5, 1976, soon after the W.T. Grant store across the street, where he was a manager, closed. Kaessinger started with $13,000. The rent was $375 a month for a small store on Main Street. He has been growing ever since. In 1992, the business moved to its current location at 541 Main St.

“We ran a very fine store, and I think we still do,” Kaessinger said. “You have to have good prices, decent displays, good merchandise and knowledgeable salespeople. The one thing we’re probably lacking is customers in the downtown area to come into our store. We do have people who come from a distance because they know we have the finest selection of curtains you will find.”

Louis Vaccaro started working at the shop as a teenager in the mid-1980s. “I was the stock boy and I just never left,” Vaccaro said.

After Vaccaro entered college, Kaessinger promoted the “ambitious young man who didn’t have to be told to do something” to manager. “I was the stock boy to everybody who was working here, and then all of a sudden because I’m wearing a tie, I’m the manager,” Vaccaro said. “All the management books from Iona College didn’t include ‘how to take over a store when you’re 18 years old and tell the people who’ve worked there almost as long as you’ve been alive what to do.’”

Kaessinger lives 70 miles away on Long Island, so having Vaccaro in the store “worked out great.”

“We’ve had some good years and some bad years,” Kaessinger said. “New Rochelle is the best it’s ever been and it’s growing and hopefully The Curtain Shop will also grow along with the town.”

Vaccaro said at night, the city was “sort of a ghost town.” Now, there are people living next door and across the street.

“We’re happy to be riding this wave up, because on our block alone $45 (million) to $50 million has been invested in the past 10 years,” Vaccaro said. “This is a great community; there’s changes happening all around us.”
Vaccaro said the Curtain Shop Web site, launched two years ago, is very successful.

“When we have a slow day here, luckily around the country I’m selling,” Vaccaro said.

The farthest the store has shipped curtains is to Iraq.

“We send curtains all over the place,” Vaccaro said. “We probably have hit every state. People are very surprised to find out that we actually have a store, we’re not just a warehouse.”

Ann Marie Vaccaro, Louis’ mother, has been working at the store for 15 years.
“Most of our customers are people you get to know on a first name basis,” she said. “We have a lot of customers that we’ve had for many, many years, but we see new generations coming in all the time.” She said yarn is a growing business in addition to “the little things that we carry” like placemats, flowers and hamper baskets.

“We’ve built up a pretty strong customer base,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve got a great selection and excellent prices, but the service is really what sets us apart.”

Different price points and qualities enable the store to appeal to a diverse customer base.

“We try to hit the high end customer as well as the low end, which isn’t what a store is supposed to do,” Kaessinger said. “You’re supposed to decide who your customers are, but New Rochelle has everybody here, so you try and cater to all the people.”

Vaccaro said with the lousy real estate market, “We’re selling more custom window treatments because people are staying where they are and fixing their home up more instead of moving.” He added: “We continually upgrade our product line.”

“We’ve had a few years where business has not been as good, and one of the reasons was because our competition, Linens ’N Things, moved into the area four or five years ago,” Kaessinger said.

Linens ’N Things went bankrupt and is in the process of closing all its stores.
“We are sorry that the competition wasn’t able to make it, but we hope that a lot of those customers will come here now,” Kaessinger said.
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