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Customer service is key, Alle-Kiski small business owners say

| Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Curt Marino, owner of Seita Jewelers, pulls out a tray of Pandora charms for customers during 'Small Business Saturday' at Seita Jewelers in Tarentum on Saturday, November 24, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

In a store full of art from days gone by, Kensington Court Antique Boutique's owner Regis Rush said his business offers a particularly sought-after lost art: customer service.

That's why, Rush said, customers continue to patronize his and other small businesses in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

And that's part of the reason he and other local entrepreneurs said sales were good on Saturday, a day on which holiday shoppers are especially encouraged to patronize small businesses over big-box retailers.

“We've been jamming,” Rush said of the New Kensington shop he and partner Jay Ritter opened along Barnes Street two years ago.

Jewelry and gifts were hot commodities on Saturday, but Rush said the holiday shopping season begins for them in early November when they host an open house.

He said furniture sales also were strong before Thanksgiving, likely because of people preparing for holiday visitors.

Aside from offerings of 37 antique dealers, Rush said customer service ranging from free delivery to helping people carry packages to their cars are an attraction at Kensington Court. As another free service, Rush had a variety of local businesses and activities to recommend to patrons.

Laurie Stephens, new owner of Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, said her first holiday shopping season at the 22-year-old store is going well.

“We had people at the door at 10 a.m. when we opened,” Stephens said, and several patrons were browsing when a reporter visited less than an hour before closing time.

“It has been like a party all day,” Stephens said. “When your customers are your friends, and you're sharing what you love, it is invigorating.”

Stephens credited previous owners Richard Goldman and Mary Alice Gorman for building up a base of customers that not only travels to get to the Allegheny River Boulevard store, but also orders online from all over the country.

Holiday orders placed through the store's website were waiting for Stephens when she came in on Friday — giving her a jump on the traditional Internet shopping day of the Monday following Thanksgiving.

“It's the best of both worlds,” Stephens said.

Business at Seita Diamond Jewelers in Tarentum also was brisk on Saturday, according to owner Curt Marino.

He said diamonds and Pandora charm bracelets were in demand.

Marino said this is Seita's best year so far for participation in Small Business Saturday, an initiative started by credit-card company American Express three years ago.

“We've continued to grow,” Marino said, noting the jewelry store's East Sixth Avenue location will expand substantially early next year. “We're just so blessed.”

Stephens said she also plans to renovate the bookstore after the holidays, and Rush has new ideas he'd like to incorporate at Kensington Court.

Although the small businesses didn't open for crazy hours during or after Thanksgiving, they did offer their share of sales and promotions.

“No matter how much money they have, people still want a bargain,” Rush said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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