By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Theresa Cyzeski believes that, as Christmas approaches, Oneonta could be a destination not just for holiday shopping, but for holiday cheer.
“We could be like a Hallmark movie,” she said. “I had such a blast doing the scarecrows with the college students. Why couldn’t we have people downtown decorating light poles or making snow sculptures?”
A Main Street staple for more than a decade, Theresa’s Emporium has been named the Key Bank, NA 21st Annual Small Business of the Year by the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce.
Cyzeski, who worked as a teacher’s aide at Cooperstown Central School for 19 years, started her shop at West End Archery, at 435 Chestnut St., then owned by her husband, David. “He was out of the house in the evenings and the kids” – daughters Bridgette and Kelly – “were out of the house. I didn’t just want to stay home all alone.”
There was an empty room at the range, and a friend suggested she set up shop inside. “I’ve always loved retail,” she said. “I had been a cashier at Fay’s and Grand Union. I love chatting with customers and making them happy and comfortable.”
She began selling gifts and home goods, but quickly outgrew the space. For a while she had a space at the Southside Mall, then in Price Chopper Plaza, and at two separate storefronts on Main Street before becoming the ground floor retail anchor of Klugo’s Parkview Place in the former Bresee’s Department Store.
“I grew up when Main Street was vibrant,” she said. “Those are some of my fondest memories, and I want to offer that to the next generation.”
The larger store allowed her to expand her offerings to include apparel and more toys. “We had looked into opening a separate toy store,” she said. “But when we moved here, we had room for it.”
It’s been especially popular this year, she said, as parents are homeschooling their children in the COVID-19 pandemic. “They’re really looking into educational toys,” she said.
And in 2010, her sister Kathy Verelli joined her, having just retired as a teacher’s aide at the former St. Mary’s School.
“I buy what I like,” she said. “I really love the fair-trade gourds from Peru, and the glass bulbs from Washington. They’re made with ash from Mount St. Helen’s, and they’re virtually unbreakable.”
“It’s not the usual kind of shopping, where you come in and you know what you want,” said Cyzeski. “It’s an adventure. You don’t know what you are going to find.”
In addition to running the store, Cyzeski and Verelli are active in the downtown community, including hosting a mini petting-zoo during the annual Christmas tree lighting, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for the people who live in the apartments above her store, and putting together sidewalk sales as part of the “Survive, Then Thrive” events downtown.
“Those Saturdays this summer felt more like the old days than anything I’ve felt in years,” said Cyzeski. “We need to keep doing things like that.”
With COVID-19 still a concern for many shoppers, she had to stop offering fresh-baked goods at the counter in the store’s right-front window.
But new this year will be online shopping, as well as private shopping parties, featuring games, snacks and discounts for the host and guests.
“Main Street is a community thing,” she said. “It gives people pride in where they live.”