Tuesday, May 26, 2015

True Believers -- Small Businesses in Atlantic City

By Harriet Diamond 
Special Correspondent

 Small businesses that fully embrace commitment to their customers, quality goods and services, and reasonable pricing are essential to Atlantic City’s resurgence. 
-- Joseph Molineaux , Director, Small Business Development Center

 For more than two decades, the mantra, “Small business is big business” has surfaced and resurfaced. Small business owners in Atlantic City with vision, creativity, and energy continue to succeed despite a challenging economy.

 One such business is Pilani’s, a unique store that opened on the boardwalk between Chelsea and Montpelier Avenues in 2002, adding a store at Texas Avenue within four years, and most recently investing in an additional location adjacent to their first.

Talk about true believers! Pilani’s began as an ethnic store, carrying high quality Indian clothing and jewelry at an affordable price point. The clothing is all private label, handmade, cotton. The jewelry includes natural stone. They are wedded to the business motto, “know your customer,”

Pallavi and Bharat Aggaarwal continue to grow their business to meet evolving tastes. The store at 3113 Boardwalk has incorporated non-ethnic clothing and added lines for the home as well as stationery items for an expanding customer base. This store caters to the more sophisticated customer, but even the younger crowd will find delights there.

Next door, 3111 remains ethnic, with Indian clothing and jewelry along with home décor items and hand-made stationery from India. The store at 2615 (Texas Ave.) attracts a younger crowd and stocks items that appeal primarily to that demographic; however, women of any age will find clothing and jewelry to suite them as well.

 This refreshing boardwalk chain recently added unusual souvenirs and beach-related items, all matching the quality for which their brand has become known. When asked why she and her husband chose the boardwalk for their businesses, Pallavi answered without hesitation, “The beach. People come to enjoy the beach.” And they do; and they have, year after year. Pilani’s, which only closes in January and February, has attracted a following from as far away as Texas and California. Those loyal customers were the impetus for the Aggarwals to add mail order to their buying options; however, when these customers return to Atlantic City (and they do), they visit their favorite boardwalk store.

Pilani’s was recognized in December, 2014, by the New Jersey Small Business Development Center with a Success Award for their foresight, their unique product offerings, and the welcoming layout of their stores. The displays are as tasteful as the clothing, jewelry, and accessroies they highlight. Pallavi is thrilled with the changes coming to Atlantic City.

 “We already see the benefits from the boardwalk tram and increased foot traffic from the Tropicana’s ongoing, exciting additions.” Business is up 11.5%, a feat in this economic climate. The Aggarwals look forward to the highly anticipated transformation of the Pier to Playground and the role that will play in bringing more people to the Atlantic City boardwalk. Stacy Foster-Godwin, the entrepreneur who created A1 Tours just three years ago has become an accidental ambassador for Atlantic City.

When asked about the impetus for starting her business, Stacy enjoys traveling and exploring various destinations while doing so. Born and raised in Atlantic City, she believes that her hometown “has a colorful history, and touring offers an opportunity to share this experience.” She reaches tourists through DOAC and Internet searches that locate her.

 Additionally, as a member of the Atlantic City Concierge Association, she has a broad network that is instrumental in referring visitors to A-1 tours. “People take our tours for enjoyment, for information, or just to satisfy their curiosity.”

 While many of us know that the Atlantic City boardwalk was the first in the country, that’s news to out-of-state and even some not-from-South Jersey New Jersey residents. Did you know that the first boardwalks were actually rolled up and put away at the end of the summer? Among the tours offered are the drive around the city, touching on historical landmarks and things to do as well as a boardwalk walking tour and a marina tour.

When A-1 began, the city tour included 21 points of interest; it now identifies 44. These include the eclectic mix that is today’s Atlantic City: White House Subs, Duck Town, the Arts Garage, the Atlantic City Historical Museum, the Knife and Fork, the War Memorial, and the remaining casinos, to name a few.

 Visitors are not only interested in Atlantic City’s history, but also in its future: Will Revel reopen? When? I Stockton University coming to the island? When?

 Although she doesn’t have all of the answers, Stacy can maintain visitors’ interest in the outcomes and offer a positive perspective on the many changes.

“I love to point out Tanger Outlets’ expanded roster of stores, including the new centerpiece, Bass Pro.”

 Visitors love it all – the history, the revitalization, the activities, the entertainment, the restaurants. By taking the tour, they can better plan their stay, and, perhaps, realize the value of returning to DO more AC.

 Stacy takes as much pride in the history of Atlantic City and its iconic landmarks as she does in its future and the planned changes. “I see the future of AC only one way: Big and bright. The current transition opens the door for the next big thing.”

 She continues, “We now have an opportunity to make Atlantic City better than before. Stay tuned.” The accidental ambassador concludes, “What I love about Atlantic City is that it’s small enough to bring in fresh and new businesses and large enough for them to grow and thrive.”

 These business owners are using their varied talents and their enthusiasm not only to promote the businesses that they created but also the city that they love.

“True Believers” appears monthly in The AC Times. Are you a “True Believer”? Email Harriet Diamond at harrietdiamond@me.com. Harriet is a retired business owner and management consultant, now living and writing in Atlantic City. She is the author of eight business and communication books and numerous published articles.

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