Next Stop…The Early Years

Next Stop...South Pole circa Spring 1985

That Spring and Summer of 1985 for Next Stop…South Pole at the Seaport was an exciting and fun time.  It appeared that I had pulled off the improbable and was making a  go of my all-penguin concept to the stunned disbelief of friends and family alike.   It’s hard to believe this a quarter century later, but the first lease I signed with the Seaport was only for two weeks.  Apparently that was the standard agreement one could sign through the Seaport pushcart program back then for rookie businesses.  This way if your concept is a dud (and there were plenty of those) or the Seaport didn’t like you (and there were plenty of those) then it makes the parting of the ways that much  more palatable for everyone. I recall that after first pitching the all-penguin idea to the Seaport  how enthusiastic they were with my concept, and then how taken aback I was when they said welcome to the Seaport and offered me only a two week lease.  After my initial shock, I thought that might be for the best in case I fell flat on my face and people didn’t like penguins as much as I assumed (hoped) they did.   Since I only had a couple of weeks lease, I  hadn’t much need for an inventory supply, not that it would have been large anyway given my budget and space constraints.  Being new to the penguin (or any) business I had no idea what would be a big seller or how much of anything to stock, and being a pushcart, not much room for storage either, so Robin and I made our best guess estimates and for the most part our instincts were spot on.  Our initial push cart carried less than 50 different penguin items, compared to the nearly 600 in our line today.  The Seaport did provide us with a small storage closet, which came in handy as my next storage option was my parents living room.   Another good call was opening at the Seaport back in the mid 80’s.  Those were the halcyon days for the Seaport and their fledgling festive marketplace concept.  NYC was obviously big time, but not the tourist Mecca it is today,  even Time Square back then resembled more like the Time Square from the film Taxi Driver than the Disney theme store it’s become since the mid 90’s.  The Seaport was a new oasis in a city that needed to reclaim its waterfront and its pride as it slowly made its way back from the financial crisis of the 70’s. New Yorkers and tourists alike couldn’t get enough of the Seaport those first few years, and it was a perfect fit for us.  The Seaports  pushcart  program even had their own management team back then headed by Gerry Hogarty who I first pitched the all penguin concept to back in October 1984, Jerry not only greeted it enthusiastically from the get go, but realizing I was a novice in the world of retail he mentored me in a big way through those early days.  I’m not sure how easy it would have been without him or my good friend Robin.  As that first Spring turned to Summer other pushcarts and their revolving two week leases came and went, and by late August Gerry invited Next Stop South Pole  to be one of the fledgling kiosks that the Seaport had been constructing on the north end of the building’s 2nd floor.  All in all there were about 8 – 10 kiosks ranging in size from 200 to 800 square feet.  Obviously, the bigger the kiosk, the larger the rent, and as I was still living with my folks in Queens and paying back some penguin start-up loans I choose one of the smaller ones.  Robin and I designed and built our first “penguin igloo” and on September 15th (a mere six month after I first opened) we moved into our first little store.  I still had not hired anyone other than Robin who worked part-time with me on weekends when it was busiest, other than that I manned the penguin store 7 days a week from 11 am to 9 pm.

First kiosk in 1985 with Eric, Aunt Susan, Mom and Cousin Stephen

But, with the kiosk I had my own phone, display case, store sign, shelves, address for mail and most importantly a gate I could close when I had to go to the bathroom.  I also realize around that time that most of my penguin loving customers were tourists and once they visited NY and the Seaport I might not ever see them again, so I quickly began to self publish on a copy machine my first all-penguin mail order catalog. The South Pole definitely not heading south, and as I headed to my first holiday season I finally moved out of my parents apartment and found a share with some friends who also worked at the Seaport.    Next Stop…Baltimore

1985 flier to announce our moving to a kiosk and our new "Complete Penguin Catalogue". For $1 and a stamped self addressed envelope.

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One Response to “Next Stop…The Early Years”

  1. Penguin Place Mach 5 or 6, or maybe 7 « Penguin Place Post Says:

    […] but how many people get to make a living at what they love? Selling penguins.  You can see the story of Penguin Place in complete detail as to who, what and why in this link.  About 25 years ago I began my little […]

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