Anna Villalongo, a lifelong Paterson resident, has opened a gift shop on Ellison Street with her husband Jose, whose grand opening took place on Wednesday morning.
The store, Less For Gifts, plans to fill a gap that exists in the city. “Less For Gifts, LLC is the only gifts shop that’s also a Hallmark Store in Paterson,” said Villalongo. There are large corporations like Rite Aid and Walgreens who sell greeting cards and gifts with considerable markups; however, says Villalongo, there is not a single shop whose primary aim is to sell greeting cards and gifts. Her store, located on 116 Ellison Street, hopes to be just that store: one that specializes in selling small gifts and greeting cards.
The shop’s name implies that everything in the store will be affordable for most residents. Shelf after shelf of cards, some for Father’s Day others for birthday, are spread out in multiple aisles with inexpensive price labels – a large number of them bare 99 cents price tag.
Villalongo, 52, doesn’t just have cards, there are gifts, like teddy bears and stuffed animals. The idea seems, if a customer is inside the store to purchase a card, his eyes are likely to gravitate towards gifts, and both will be bought: the card and the gift.
Villalongo, a former outreach coordinator for Paterson Education Fund, sits behind a counter, handling dozens of customers as they line up in front of the counter, mainly to purchase lottery tickets. She knows a good many customers by their first names, addressing them on first name basis certainly provides an affability that is the mark of most successful mom-and-pop stores, of which Villalongo’s is the latest in the city.
Villalongo is a pragmatist she understands that selling just cards and gifts will not pay the bills, at least not yet. So she has lottery machines that constantly printout tickets on customer’s demand. And these tickets, she says, “will pay the bills for now.”
During the grand opening that took place at around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Villalongo, who was born in the city to Puerto Rican parents, invited members of her family from far and wide. Coming from a family of 14 she had a number of invites to send out to family members spread throughout the Northeast.
One of her brother, Miguel Gomez, traveled more than 170 miles to attend the grand opening. “We are very close as a family – always there for each other,” said Gomez. A week earlier she attended a City Council meeting to invite local politicians to attend the store’s opening. Andre Sayegh, the council president, who represents the 6th Ward in which Villalongo lives, attended the opening.
She hopes to keep the store in the family. “If Less For Gifts, LLC makes a profit every year we do plan to pass it on for decades,” said Villalongo.