Doing Business in: East Longmeadow
Here, Shop Owners Help Foster Community SpiritGiuseppe “Pino” DeGuglielmo is a man who knows pizza.
He joked that he loves food. “Take a look at me,” he laughed, holding his sides. He’s really not as wide as he thinks, though, and talking about the scope of his business, he said that he’s just one guy making pizza every day, seven days a week. But the busy stream of customers, in and out of his restaurant, Peppa’s Pizza, on Harkness Avenue, tells a different story.
He’s lived in a few different places since he was born in Springfield, perhaps most notably as a pizza man in New Haven, but he went to school in East Longmeadow. When a location opened up in the small plaza just off the bustling thoroughfare of Route 83, he knew it was time to come home.
East Longmeadow’s business community is among the more vibrant in the towns of the southern Pioneer Valley. On the one hand there is an industrial sector, with, among many others, Hasbro Games and Lenox, but for much of the populace in the smaller outlying towns, this is the destination for their retail needs.
The larger shopping plazas, containing chains such as Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Home Goods, are attractively maintained, and vacancies, if any at all, are neither large nor visible. This creates a bustling venue for smaller operations, and alongside the famous national names, are a few local stand-outs. With A.O. White, Rocky’s Hardware, Spoleto’s Italian restaurant, and numerous others, East Longmeadow is a busy town.
When Kate Vishnyakov was deciding where to open a clothing store for women, to be called Kate Gray, this was the strong retail environment that she had in mind.
“To say that all roads go into East Longmeadow … it’s a bit of a trite statement, but it is, if anything, an understatement,” she said.
“Just to think about that rotary,” she continued, referring to the famous, or infamous, union of seven roads, just outside her store. “All those spokes — there are times of the day that it’s incredibly busy.”
Her clothing store is a destination for shoppers from not only East Longmeadow and surrounding towns, but also for clients willing to travel an hour or more. “Customers do business with people whom they know and trust,” she said, “and we work to provide that. There’s much more to this business than just selling clothes.”
In another facet of the world of fashion and beauty, the same philosophical statement could just as easily be applied. For the co-owners of Brush Salon, Bobby Scott and Jess Imbriglio, the ability to transform lives, both for clients and charitable deeds, is very important.
“We make people feel good about themselves,” Scott said. Of his salon’s work with local groups like Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and organizations helping survivors of breast cancer, he added, “Helping women change the way they feel is something that you just couldn’t put a value upon. And is it that much out of our lives to make such an impact on someone?”
Their salon is just over a year old, and opened during a slow time for the beauty industry and the economy in general. But, like others in town, it’s that role in their community which makes them happy to be doing business in East Longmeadow.
As Vishnyakov added, “It’s not about being in a centralized location, but in a good location.”
I Did it My Way
Across the room from a glass display case stuffed with pizza varieties like cheeseburger, Buffalo chicken, and one with a particularly interesting combination — bacon, seasoned french fries, and cheddar — DeGuglielmo hooked his thumb at that array and said, “we try to make things a bit different here.”
He’s been making pizza since he was 11 he said, and during that spell in New Haven, a foodie mecca, he said he was given some pointers on the bench. But it was while he was running his cousin’s restaurant in Chicopee, John’s Pizza, that he realized he wanted to own his own shop.
Nine years ago, he bought the business, and in short order, he transformed the operation. “It was smaller scale, no delivery,” he said. “I brought in a fryer, really started up the ability to do more for sporting events. And it was then I brought in a lot of crazier ideas for pizza also.”
Cheese fries, barbecued chicken, shepherd’s pie, and garlic knot crust, are just a few of the “reinventions” of pizza, as he calls them, that have people lining up to order by the slice or entire pie.
He says that his current store is a little hidden, off the main road, but on a weekday during lunch, and in fact for many times throughout the week, no one has any trouble finding it. DeGuglielmo recently opened another branch, called Peppa’s Express, in close proximity to Western New England University.
Business is brisk at the home location, though, so much so that he said at some point soon, he’s going to have to expand, either in the present location or one close by. He’s pretty modest about what he does, stating matter-of-factly, “I love to make pizza, I’m here seven days a week, and my wife comes in to work, also.”
But one thing that is as important to him as his love of food is helping out in his hometown, “any way I can,” he said. “Anytime there’s something going on in the community, I like to be a part of it.”
A business can only benefit from that level of charitable commitment, Scott agreed. And in the one year that his salon has been transforming hair and makeup for its clients, it also strives to make over an entire brand.
“Yes, this about hair and aesthetics,” he continued, “but if you really need to put your donated time into a business perspective, sure, it is free advertising. We speak at colleges, and hospitals, and if we get two people that become customers from it, then that’s beneficial for everyone.”
Scott and Imbriglio make beauty look easy — he as a master stylist for hair and she as a skin therapist — but their business involves hard work and long days. When asked to recall their shared backstory, Imbriglio smiled and deferred to her co-owner’s memory. “He tells it so much better.”
“She was a model at a fashion show where I had been doing hair, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name,” he said. “I kept calling her ‘Blondie’ that entire night, and through some subsequent social events. But then I found out that Jess, when finally learning her real name, was more than a model; she was a professional aesthetician who also had an interest in creating her own business.
“We chatted, and realized that our visual concepts for a salon were very much on the same page, from how it should be run, to what the vibe would be like, how people should be treated,” he continued. “And here we are.”
Here is also on Harkness Avenue, and Scott explained that there never was a thought to open his first salon anywhere but East Longmeadow.
“This town is kind of like the Las Vegas strip with the amount of salons here,” he said. “Everyone tends to come to East Longmeadow to get their hair done. I boomed fast when I was younger, getting a good clientele; it was important for me to have a place convenient for them.”
That level of competition is good, Imbriglio said, because it keeps their business on its toes. “It makes you want to do that much better. One key message here above all else is to focus on our clients, making them feel welcome.”
And that simple message is one of the key components to what their far-reaching clientele says makes Brush a salon like none other. But not for long, because the pair have grand designs on taking that first location and branching out elsewhere.
“Not that we aren’t content to be here, not at all,” she explained. “But there is always the thought of what more can we do, and where can we go from here?”
Scott joked that people accuse him of too frequently looking into “the crystal ball” at what the future might hold. “Initially, I could see three or four stores. But still where everyone knows your name.”
It’s not hard to imagine that growth, either, because the pair has racked up a strong and successful business in such an unforgiving economy. “Everyone strongly advised us against opening,” Scott remembered of their debut in June 2010. “We were crazy, they’d say. Even our clients were saying that. It is naturally slower during the summer months for a salon, and then to add the recession on top of that; my philosophy was that it can’t get any worse.
Fast forward to today, and he said that the salon has grown every month, not exponentially, but steadily. The partners carry the TIGI line of products, makers of Bed Head, and that company recently told them that theirs is the number-one small business in sales for the line in Massachusetts.
Looking across to his business partner, Scott added, “They say that during a recession, everyone wants to feel better.” After an appointment with those two and their staff, everyone would look better, also.
“I knew I wanted to have the business named after a person, and my last name wasn’t the best choice,” Vishnyakov told BusinessWest. “It’s neither memorable, nor easy to say!”
Growing up in Russia, she said that her dolls had the best wardrobe of any that she knew. The passion for fashion may have been lifelong, but it was honed during the final days of the clothing store Yale Genton, where she managed the women’s clothing section for six years. “Being there really allowed me to fine-tune my approach to quality clothing,” she added.
The process of creating a brand wasn’t one she took lightly, and that went all the way to what the name would be. “Gray for gray matter — the brains,” she explained. “I have always loved to work with women who are grown-up, confident, who just enjoy being the way they are. She doesn’t necessarily need to be professional, she could be a mom — but definitely sophisticated.
“One of the sales reps with whom I had worked for a long time said, ‘Oh, gray the color — not so black and white,’” she continued. “Everyone’s perception is different. But in the end, I had a box of Earl Grey tea before me, which I drink constantly. I wrote ‘Kate Gray’ down, and I said, ‘This is it.’
She did some research after that, talking to her customers from all professions and backgrounds, and asked what the name ‘Kate Gray’ conveyed to them. “They said it sounds like it had been in business for a long time, it sounded reliable,” she explained, “and that was the message I wanted to send — quality, tradition, classical, but very modern as well.”
After four years of owning her own store, Vishnyakov said that her clientele has come to appreciate her role not just as a merchant, but in matters less tangible. “This is a business of trust. I sell clothes, yes, but more than that, I sell confidence.”
Reflecting on her role in the tightly-knit community of East Longmeadow — whose connections were once again put to a test by Mother Nature, this time in the freak October snowstorm that knocked out power town-wide for almost a full week — she said that beyond even her role as a trusted salesperson, being a small-business owner means so much more than just the items on the rack.
“Yes, it can be exciting, going shopping in Boston or New York, but in the end, the money that you spend here in your home community stays here,” she said. “We merchants shop locally, we employ people from the community, and we donate to local organizations.
And those relationships are beneficial to her customers, as well, she said. “I get so much repeat business every year at the holidays because people know they can get a gift very easily here with personalized care. Sometimes we’ll even know the person well, and can prepare very special gifts, just for them.”