Deb Zakrzewski

When it comes to holiday shopping, there are different approaches one can take. There are those people that start way in advance and finish early, leaving the rest of their holiday to either relax or focus their energy elsewhere. Then there are those of us who wait until Christmas Eve to do most of their shopping, because deep down we are gluttons for punishment but also there is a certain thrill that comes with waiting until the very last minute and getting it done. Whatever type of shopper you are, Zak’s Avenue can accommodate you.

Deb Zakrzewski was one of the first businesses to open in South and Hickory Place on South Avenue in 2010 and has spent the time since then filling her store with a fun mixture of the quirky, homemade and more traditional gift options. Not only is Deb a business owner in the South Wedge, she also lives here and is a frequent supporter of other local South Wedge businesses.

I think that people genuinely want to see small businesses be successful so they feel part of it when they shop here.

How long have you been open?

I opened on Veteran’s Day, 2010.

Is this your first retail venture/spot?

I had a little jewelry business that I did on the side when I was still working in corporate – for about 7 years. I would do about 5-6 shows a year – I had handmade stuff and stuff that I had made to order from a silversmith in Bali. I did biker shows and swap meets, the museum show, the Park Avenue festival; I also worked for 9 months in another small specialty store. I tried to get this bug out of my head that I wanted to open a store and it just kept getting bigger. I just said “You know what? I’m gonna open a store.”

Do you live in the neighborhood? Did you want to open the store specifically in this neighborhood?

I moved to the neighborhood 3 years ago too. I looked at Park Avenue first, I was looking at a place over there but the timing wasn’t right. At that time I was thinking about this neighborhood and looking at this neighborhood and I had the location. This new building was being built, I saw the sign and I was the first business in the building.

Where does the name Zak’s Avenue come from?

It comes from my last name, Zakrzewski.

Do you sell your handmade jewelry in the store?

I have some of my own pieces and I make cute, little stuffed toys, too, out of yarn and socks. I don’t have a lot of time to do that stuff anymore. I have some earrings, I have a lot of jewelry that I have made but it’s not stuff I sell because I don’t have to make enough of it to sell. But I know how to do little repairs and I do that for people if I can.

How do you choose the merchandise for your store?

I have over 200 suppliers; I talk to anybody and everybody that has something to sell. It’s taken me this long to kind of learn what my niche is, some unexpected things have happened. I have a lot of funny things in the store – that really wasn’t my initial goal. I have a lot of cards – I didn’t expect to do well with those either but there is no other gift shop in the neighborhood. I shop through catalogs and I shop online, I have over 40 local companies in here. I have a good mix of US-made and fair trade goods from around the world.

What were you doing before you opened the store?

I had a lot of jobs in corporate, my last one was for 11 years. I was recruiting senior level technical executives, managers, vice presidents and directors for mostly local companies.

How do you like being in the South Wedge?

I LOVE it. I love how diverse it is in respect to age, ethnicity, orientation. I love that everyone has been so helpful to me. They’ve made me feel very comfortable. There is so much to do; I don’t have to leave the neighborhood if I don’t want to. I think I’ve put 1000 miles on my car this year.

Are you going to have special holiday hours?

I am open on Sundays from 12:00-4:00. Otherwise I’m open till 7 p.m. every other night of the week. I haven’t needed to do more yet.

What are some of the best selling items in your store for the holidays?

I don’t have a lot of stuff that is holiday-oriented – but I have winter things and fun holiday things that are generic for most everybody. I do have some holiday/Christmas things in the store.

What are some of your favorite items that you sell?

The No! Button, the Rochester fridge phrases. I love selling jewelry; it’s really fun to help people pick out jewelry. I love the vintage stuff, that stuff sells really well. And, unexpectedly to me, the clothing sells really well and paper products. Baby stuff sells well here, the bar stuff sells pretty great.

If you were to tell someone what the benefits are with shopping small business versus large, what would you tell them? What does that mean for you?

I think you get more attention, we can help you find the perfect gift and we’re always happy to do that. Our prices are very comparable to the bigger stores. But I think what’s mostly different is the selection and that’s what I probably spend most of my time on, cherry picking. And plus, obviously you are supporting a local business; I put my life savings into this. Everything single thing in this store is something that I personally own that you can pick out and buy. It just makes me feel great that people come in to shop locally. The grassroots, groundswell of support that’s starting to occur around small business owners is encouraging to me. We do free gift wrapping, free boxes, ribbons. You get a gift if you come in on your birthday. I’m starting to learn a lot of my customer’s last names now. We have a reward club here, if you spend $100 you get $10 certificate. I think that people genuinely want to see small businesses be successful so they feel part of it when they shop here.

What are some of your favorite things to do in the South Wedge?

Food! I love every single restaurant in this neighborhood. I love taking long walks. I love looking at all the architecture and the houses. I love hanging out at all the places down here. I like the fact that you go to a place and you see people that you know. And I like the uniqueness of things that you can buy. People don’t want the same things that you can find in a mall.