By Lisa Zola-DeLibero
Georgette Keenan has always had a knack for retail. At the age of 15, growing up in Linden, Keenan asked the manager of the fabulous dress shop, BZ Fashions, if she could sweep the sidewalks in front of the store just to feel like she was a part of the whole scene.
A lot has happened since her first attempt to get involved in retail: Keenan spent years working, studied merchandising at LIM in New York, married the man of her dreams, Kevin Keenan, and spent time as a stay at home mom with her son K.C., now 30, and daughter Caitlin, now 28.
Now, Keenan, 65, is living her dream as the owner of Necessities for the Heart, which has store locations in Bordentown City, Allentown and Point Pleasant.
“My dad wanted me to be a secretary, and I was absolutely terrible at it,” Keenan said in an interview at the Allentown location. “Seventeen years ago, I saw this building, which was occupied at the time by eight other shops. There was a rent sign out front of this 1790’s John Imlay Mansion, and I just had a feeling that it was here for me. I knew it was time to start my own business, since my kids were now 10 and 12. So we opened up a teashop, selling all different teas, teapots, tea accoutrements, books about tea and everything tea related.”
The idea of selling everything to do with tea started out as a swell idea, until Keenan realized that people don’t usually come back to the store for more teapots.
“I realized I had to sell something else if I wanted the store to be around for a long time,” she said. “I decided to that selling gift items was what I wanted to do. I wanted to build a store with brands that people were familiar with. We started with Brighton, and went from there.”
Keenan actually had to apply to be able to sell Vera Bradley products. Representatives from the company came out and took photos of the Allentown store, and Keenan had to provide financial and other information to the company. The representatives must have liked what they saw.
“Now, if you look around, you can see beautiful Vera Bradley handbags in the store,” Keenan said.
The 28 North Main St. store, with its charm and cozy ambiance, is filled with items that would make any gift shopper or self-shopper want to spend hours just browsing.
“We are not the common gift store,” Keenan said. “We have our Alex & Ani, which is affordable luxury, Trollbeads, and so many other names brands, as well as gift cards, and hundreds of other gorgeous and beautiful items. We are known for always being on to the next big thing. I guess you can say I have a knack for this kind of thing, and have been lucky.”
Keenan said her husband, Kevin, who served in the United States Army, has supported her and “never squelched her dreams.” The two met when they were both working at Bambergers many years ago, and recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
Ten years ago, the Millstone couple opened a second store, Necessities Boutique, located at 503 Bay Ave. in Point Pleasant, and seven years ago opened a third store, the second with the original name, Necessities for the Heart, located at 204 Farnsworth Ave. in Bordentown.
“We looked at the mailing addresses of many of our customers, and noticed that they lived in different parts of New Jersey,” Keenan said. “We decided to open a second store in Point Pleasant as a store that would get a lot of business in the summer. Come to find out, the shore store does well all year round. We also wanted to reach our Columbus and Florence customers, so we opened up our third store in Bordentown.”
The grandmother of one, “Kevie,” and with another grandchild on the way, Keenan is always on the go. She gives most of the credit of the stores’ success to her staff.
“This company may be two owners, Kevin and me, but we feel that most of our staff treats this as if it were their own business,” Keenan said. “Our staff, who we call family because they are like family, consists of loyal, dedicated and hard working individuals. We could never, ever do what we do if it wasn’t for all of them, from Maryanne who has worked in the office with us for over ten years, to all of our wonderful staff.“
Karen Kucowski, who Keenan refers to as the “face of the business,” loves working at the store.
“We are blessed to work in such a beautiful environment like this building, that inspires us everyday,” Kucowski said. “The atmosphere is an historical heritage feel, and the clientele is fabulous.”
Employee Lisa Krosnowski has been a part of the gift shop family for only seven months, but enjoys coming to work.
“I love dealing with the customers and helping them choose the right product for them,” she said.
Melissa Sacco, who is entering her third year with the Keenans, feels that the store is awesome.
“I love coming here everyday that I work,” she said. “I am surrounded by so many beautiful things.”
For more information, including store hours, go online to necessitiesfortheheart.com or search Necessities for the Heart on Facebook.