From corporate to nonprofits to professionals and retailers, here is our list of some of the top women in business on the Island
According to recent findings by the Center for an Urban Future, an independent Manhattan think-tank that publishes studies about New York City’s economy, women-owned businesses in the five boroughs have increased substantially over the past several years. The report, published through Capital One’s Future Edge Initiative, also states that women entrepreneurs in this city are starting and growing businesses in every sector and are finding lasting success in their endeavors.
But here on Staten Island, women have been an integral part of the borough’s economic landscape for decades. To celebrate their contributions to our economy and Staten Island’s future in general, we have compiled a list of some of the borough’s most influential women in business. Their work spans from corporate duties to careers in the non-profit sector — each professional a powerful part of the Staten Island workforce.
Owner, The Nicotra Group LLC
Lois Nicotra was a newlywed working as an elementary school teacher and studying for her master’s degree when her husband Richard asked her to help balance the books of his fledging business.
“When we first got married, he was running his first store in Manhattan and asked me to help with the payroll,” Nicotra said, detailing the Everything Yogurt franchise her husband launched on Wall Street in 1975. “We lived in the tiniest two-room apartment then and I did it all by hand sitting on the edge of the bed using the ironing board as my desk.”
The franchise — which would eventually grow to encompass 250 stores nationwide — began to take off and Lois had a choice: Continue her teaching career or join her husband’s business. She chose the latter.
“We worked so well together,” she said of her life and business partner. “And, of course, he is very handsome and convincing.”
The couple continued to grow the business for 20 years, expanding into markets all over the country. After renting a small business space in Port Richmond for close to a decade, they decided to purchase their first office building on a desolate strip of South Avenue in 1993.
“At that point, we were handling more aspects of the business with regard to franchising — hosting conventions, meeting with prospective franchisees — and we were sending the people coming to meet us to hotels in New Jersey because there was no place to stay here on Staten Island,” Nicotra said.
After years of research, planning and construction, the couple opened the Hilton Garden Inn in September 2001.
“We opened four days after the horrific events of September 11,” Nicotra said. “It was such a difficult time. We built this hotel with the intention of hosting weddings and other wonderful events and found ourselves hosting dozens of repast luncheons for the grieving families of Staten Island instead.”
But the Nicotras say the tragedy allowed them to be a place of welcome for people in both good times and bad. And in the past 17 years, they have singlehandedly turned that once desolate West Shore of Staten Island into a bustling business hub.
“Sometimes I look around this Corporate Park and cannot believe that this is all a reality,” Nicotra said, speaking of the seven Class A office buildings, 198-room Hilton Garden Inn, Nicotra’s Ballroom & Conference Center, Above Rooftop, Lorenzo’s Restaurant Bar & Cabaret, and the 107-room Hampton Inn & Suites that now occupy that original site. Commons Café, a restaurant that donates 100 percent of its profits to Staten Island initiatives, is among Nicotra’s pride and joy.
And even more expansion is scheduled for the future.
“We are currently embarking upon the largest project in our portfolio,” Nicotra said. “Corporate Commons Three will feature 330,000 square feet of space with a rooftop organic farm, weather station and charter school. We are very excited to launch this new venture.”
Deputy Director, Staten Island Business Outreach Center
After studying business administration in college, Nina Flores started her career as a receptionist with the Brooklyn Economic Development Corp., eventually working her way up to assistant manager of business services. After managing the New York State Entrepreneurial Assistance Program and the New York City Small Business Services Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise for 10 years, she relocated to Staten Island to work with the Staten Island Business Outreach Center.
“My position as deputy director of this organization has three components,” Flores explained.
“I currently oversee the Women’s Business Center, working with women and minorities, certifying and helping them grow their small businesses. I also provide one-to-one technical assistance to clients with any aspect for their business, whether it’s assisting with business and marketing plan development or creating a social media page. And I provide workshops on various small business and technology topics and assist with workforce development.”
Flores also assists the Forest Avenue Business Improvement District commercial corridor and serves on the BOC SBA Women’s Business Center Advisory Board.
“The past 17 years have been very rewarding,” Flores said. “I started as a receptionist and have been able to grow and learn about all of these beneficial services. Watching clients succeed and helping their businesses thrive is the best part of my job.”
Senior Vice President,
Staten Island Economic Development Corp.
After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in journalism, Gina Gutman gravitated toward a career in public relations: Landing her first job as a PR assistant with the Staten Island Children’s Museum, the Pleasant Plains native moved on to work in the press office of Borough President Molinari before taking a position with the SIEDC’s newly launched tourism council.
“I worked here for two years before being hired by Staten Island Cable,” Gutman said, detailing her positions in both marketing and public affairs. “After 14 years with the company, I returned to the SIEDC.”
Serving as senior vice president since 2013, Gutman handles everything from human resources to city contracts and works closely with the SIEDC staff and finance team on the organization’s daily operations.
“I think one of the best aspects of this job is my ability to have so much community involvement,” noted Gutman, who has also been honored for her work with numerous Staten Island organizations including the Staten Island Historical Society, Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island, the Staten Island Zoo and New Direction Services. “It is extremely fulfilling to work with so many community groups and non-profits, supporting all of their efforts and programs.”
And Gutman’s daughter, Emily, is an important part of her work-life balance.
“There are many challenges that go along with being a working mom,” Gutman concluded. “We often struggle to do our job without letting motherhood color who we are in the workplace. But all of my career choices have been family focused, and I think it’s those decisions that keep us grounded.”
Vice President of Electric Operations, Con Edison
Michele O’Connell was inspired to go into the field of engineering because it was challenging.
“I come from a family of engineers, so I have always been fascinated by the field,” she said. “And I gravitated toward the discipline of electrical engineering because it is not mundane: Electricity is invisible and therefore hard to understand. I found it an extremely challenging and rewarding field in which to work.”
O’Connell, who earned her degree in electrical engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and an MBA in finance from Montclair State University, joined the staff of Con Edison in 2003 as an associate engineer. She has held various positions over the past 15 years with responsibilities including electrical construction, project management, capital project planning and operations and maintenance in various boroughs.
“I currently have the responsibility of delivering safe and reliable power to customers on Staten Island,” O’Connell said.
As Con Edison’s vice president of electrical operations, she is also responsible for the Centralized Meter & Test Organization that installs, replaces and tests electric meters, the Electric Meter Shop that supports the 3.5 million electric meters and the Astoria Transformer Shop that refurbishes underground distribution transformers and network protectors.
A woman working in a mostly male-dominated field, O’Connell says she has faced challenges during the span of her career, but notes the key to overcoming them is confidence.
“I think one of the key things for a woman in any industry is to have the endurance to handle difficult situations with a high degree of emotional intelligence,” she concluded. “I think it’s important to be able to assert yourself with confidence while still maintaining empathy. Honesty and trust should also never be underestimated — obstacles arise in any career, it’s how you handle them that defines the outcome.”
Dr. Cynara Coomer
Chief of Breast Surgery, Staten Island University
A native of South Africa, Dr. Cynara Coomer originally pursued a career in journalism before switching gears to study medicine. Earning her medical degree from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Southern California, she fulfilled her surgical residency at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences Medical Center before being appointed an assistant professor of surgery there.
Taking an interest in surgery from the start, Coomer devoted a lot of time to her cardiac subspecialty, but as she completed her residency, she began to explore other options.
“I worked with a lot of cancer patients and began to feel as though that was my niche,” Coomer said.
“I had a heart and connection for women with cancer. I looked at various areas to specialize in and that’s where my calling was.”
Before coming to Staten Island University Hospital, Coomer was a breast surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. At both hospitals, she established a clinical practice devoted to treating breast diseases of all kinds, both benign and malignant.
Her time at SIUH has been spent building and promoting the Florina Rusi Marke Comprehensive Breast Center, an all-in-one care facility that opened in 2015.
Board certified in general surgery, she specializes in performing nipple-sparing and areola-sparing mastectomies with immediate reconstruction. She is also experienced in providing partial breast radiation.
The Todt Hill resident is also active in the community: She serves as a member of the Board of Trustees and on the Executive Committee for Development for Staten Island Academy and is an active member of Bright Pink, a non-profit that educates healthcare professionals regarding genetic risk and familial risk for breast cancer.
Director of Accessibility Services, City Access New York
Holly Bonner was only 19 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer and 28 when the disease returned. After several rounds of radical chemotherapy and aggressive treatments of radiation, the social worker lost her eyesight at the age of 32.
“The treatment essentially attacked my optic nerves and I developed optic neuritis,” Bonner said of her vision loss. “Thrust into a much darker world, I went from the role of social work practitioner to the part of disabled client in need of services.”
Unemployed, newly disabled and faced with the news that the disease had most likely robbed her of the opportunity of starting a family, Bonner fell into a deep depression.
“I was 32, had two master’s degrees and required someone to come to my house and teach me how to make a grilled cheese sandwich,” she said. “I was in a really bad place, and despite months of training in technology, mobility and adult daily living skills, started to wonder what I was living for.”
But during a routine visit to her doctor, who was helping her with the transition of losing her vision, she found out she was pregnant.
“I had a purpose again,” she said.
Five years later, Bonner and her husband Joe have two daughters, Nuala and Aoife. Shortly after the birth of her daughters, she started an online resource and blog, www.blindmotherhood.com, to chronicle the challenges she faces on a daily basis.
“I started the website because I felt very alone,” she said. “There are all of these mommy blogs out there, but none of them spoke directly to me. When I launched blindmotherhood, I realized how many other mothers there are just like me. I had moms and dads calling, Skype’ing, texting, glad to know that someone else was in their same situation.”
Bonner, who holds degrees in human services and social work, has held positions at Camelot Counseling, Seamen’s Society and Concord High School. In addition to her role as mother and blogger, she is the director of accessibility services for City Access New York, an organization that assists individuals with developmental and sensory disabilities. She also is the director of education and outreach for IlluminArt Productions, a nonprofit that utilizes the power of theater to help children develop solutions for social problems. She recently finished writing a children’s book on blind parenting.
“I think my mission in life is to prove that anything can be done — it’s just about finding a way to adapt to the hardships that you’re given,” Bonner concluded.
Executive Director, Staten Island Children’s Museum
Dina Rosenthal was studying chemistry at Ithaca College when she took some mandatory liberal arts courses and fell in love with art history. So she continued her education at Virginia Commonwealth University, earning a master’s degree in the discipline and landed a job at the Children’s Museum of Richmond, Va.
“I’ve always worked in museums — after high school I worked at the South Street Seaport Museum, and while I was still in grad school, I worked at a bunch of small historic houses,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the arts.”
Rosenthal took a position at the Science Museum of Virginia next, traveling to schools across the state to present science workshops. She was then offered a position at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, where she ran an educational program about how science influenced American progress. In 1998, when a position became available to head the Staten Island Children’s Museum, Rosenthal, a Brooklyn native, took the opportunity to come back home.
“I love living and working in this community,” the Randall Manor resident noted. “Staten Island has this wonderful ‘small town in a big city’ feel, and it’s very easy to connect with the residents and families of this borough.”
Under Rosenthal’s leadership, the museum has doubled in size — not only its physical footprint but also in the number of people it serves and employs.
“This has always been a place for families with young children to play and experience enrichment activities in a hands-on way,” she said. “And that continues to be our mission: Bringing new and exhilarating programs that meet the changing needs and changing demographic of Staten Island.”
And over the past 20 years, Rosenthal, an openly gay woman, has changed, too.
“I’ve seen tremendous growth and acceptance here on Staten Island,” she said. “Twenty years ago, I was unwilling to share details of my personal life. But the world has changed, people’s attitudes have changed, and the Staten Island community has always been so warm and welcoming. I am proud and privileged to be a part of it.”
and Luanne Sorrentino
Co-Founders, St. George Theatre
For years, Doreen Cugno and Luanne Sorrentino spent unending hours working with their mother, Rosemary Cappozalo, to save the historic St. George Theatre from being torn down. They donated their life savings, hosted countless fundraisers and eventually brought the building’s crumbling structure back to life. But according to Cugno, the whole process didn’t feel real until Tony Bennett walked onto the Stapleton stage.
“He shook my hand and said ‘thank you for bringing me here,’” Cugno said, detailing the legendary singer’s first performance at the theater. “It was simply surreal. After so many years of hard work and perseverance, that was the moment when it all came together for me.”
Fascinated by the local gem for years, the trio launched a non-profit in 2004 to save the theater, which had no electrical power, no plumbing and water pouring through the ceilings. The orchestra seats, carpeting, stage lighting and sound system were also gone, and the heating and air conditioning systems were in complete disrepair. After a few months of restoration, the theater opened to the public in June of that year.
“We burned the candle at both ends, worked day in and day out to get it done,” Cugno said. “We just kept our eyes focused on the end result and did whatever it took to get there. We knew that the rich history of this building had to be saved; the theater could not be duplicated today, and it was important for our borough and for our community to save this jewel.”
Cugno says her family found much help from Staten Island’s elected officials and the community at large.
“Brian Laline and Jim Molinaro were instrumental in the success of this theater since its early days,” Cugno said. “And the borough is full of the most amazing and generous supporters who truly believed in what we were doing.”
Restoration of the theater is still ongoing — 1,300 new seats and hand rails were recently added, and a new marquee will be complete this spring. Cugno credits her hardworking staff with filling the St. George stage with top-notch talent each week.
“Our staff makes magic happen every weekend,” Cugno said.
Today, Cugno is in charge of the theater’s operation and Sorrentino focuses on running the dance studio founded by her mother who passed away in 2009. Both sisters are still very active in the theater’s fundraising.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to me when someone tells us ‘your mother would be so proud,’” Cugno said.
In the future, the sisters will continue to foster their educational outreach program while still concentrating on bringing high profile talent to the St. George stage.
“The theater is here to stay, my family is here to stay — and we want to keep providing arts, culture and entertainment of which the residents of Staten Island can be proud.”
Executive Director, Eden II
Joanne Gerenser was inspired to study speech therapy after growing up with two childhood friends who were deaf. Earning a master’s degree in speech and hearing from Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in speech and hearing science at the City University of New York Graduate Center, Gerenser began working at Eden II in 1982 as a speech therapist.
“I learned of autism while in college and knew I wanted to work with children who had this disorder,” Gerenser said. “But in 1982, there were very few programs. I did a lot of research and found a home here at Eden II.”
She worked as a speech pathologist and director for 10 years before being named executive director of the program in 1993, a position she continues to hold today.
“I took a different path than I originally thought — moved away from clinical work to do more administrative work,” Gerenser said. “But the work we’ve been able to accomplish here has been very fulfilling.”
Co-author of the interactive CD-ROM entitled “Behavioral Programming for Children with Autism,” Gerenser has also authored several book chapters and articles on autism and developmental disabilities. She is an associate editor of the Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis. She sits on a number of professional advisory boards for several programs serving children and adults with autism in the U.S. and abroad and has received numerous awards for her work with children and adults with autism, including the Nassau Suffolk Autism Lifetime Achievement Award, the Mosaic Foundation’s Educator of Excellence Award, the Elija Chariot Award and the Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Award.
“When I started working in this field, one out of every 2,500 children was diagnosed with autism; today the diagnosis is one out of every 68,” Gerenser said. “And while it is so unfortunate that the numbers have exploded like that and the number of children needing services just keeps growing, it is so comforting to be part of a community like Staten Island that is so supportive and generous.”
Director of Community Relations and Fundraising, On Your Mark
The best part of Teresa Cirelli’s day comes when she slips out of her office and grabs a cup of coffee at the On Your Mark Café.
“If I’m having a stressful day or just feel a little burnt out, I come here and see these guys singing and dancing, working and loving life and it just recharges me,” she said, speaking on her cell phone from a table inside the Forest Avenue coffee shop. “This place makes me feel happy. And it’s my job to raise money for it. My husband says I’m the only person alive who gets excited to go work on Monday morning. I just feel so lucky to be a part of it.”
Cirelli, who serves as the director of community relations and fundraising for On Your Mark, which provides services to children and adults with disabilities, says promoting the organization’s six unique businesses is perhaps the most inspiring part of her job.
“I plan all of the events — our gala and golf outing — coordinate our annual appeal and do all of the grant writing,” she said. “I also handle social media, press releases and community relations, but promoting On Your Mark’s unique businesses is honestly what I love best. I am beyond proud of the work being done at the Café, Chocolatier, Snack Zone, Exceptional Creations Gift Shop, Novel-tees and vending machines throughout the Island.”
Cirelli, who worked for Assemblyman Matthew Titone and served as the president of the Young Democrats Club before taking the position with On Your Mark, serves on the board of the Staten Island Business Outreach Center and is also part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Group.
Senior Vice President
of Development, Eger Foundation
More than 30 years ago, Vienna Profeta began lobbying for better hospice care.
“After my father’s illness and passing, I was inspired to become involved with hospice,” Profeta said. “There were so many wonderful people who cared for him as he reached the end of his life, but I felt as though there should be more for families who were going through such a sad and emotional time.”
So Profeta, a longtime marketing exec with experience in the beauty and travel industries, started her own foundation called Staten Island Friends for Hospice.
“It was my dream and goal to build the first free-standing hospice on Staten Island,” she noted. “Hospice existed in hospitals and nursing homes, but from my experience, I knew that a home-like environment was the dignified option of care that this borough was missing.”
Profeta raised funds and rallied groups of volunteers, battling breast cancer twice and undergoing four surgeries in a span of 10 years. She launched the “Happy to See You” program in 2000, in which licensed hairdressers visit the terminally ill for a day of pampering.
When Eger Health Care and Rehabilitation Center offered to donate a portion of land if Profeta could raise the funds to build a hospice residence there, she accepted the challenge and soon signed on as its director of development. In May 2013, the 22-acre Addeo Hospice Residence, equipped with eight luxury suites, opened to the public.
“I’m so happy that Staten Island families now have this type of hospice care,” Profeta said. “And in the future, we plan on launching a capital campaign to bring bigger and better things to this beautiful building.”
President and CEO,
The Von Agency Inc.
After opening her own business at the age of 21, Leticia Remauro faced plenty of challenges. But when high taxes and an unfavorable business climate forced the closure of her Pleasant Plains supper club, the strong-willed entrepreneur became active in government.
“I took an odd path into politics,” Remauro admits. “But as a business owner, I was frustrated and that motivated me to initiate some sort of change.”
Hired by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the early 1990s, Remauro served as his community liaison before working in the same capacity for then-Gov. George Pataki. In 1994, she ran for Assembly, losing the election to incumbent Eric Vitaliano.
Remauro was chair of the GOP from 1999 to 2002, resigning to accept a position with the Battery Park City Authority, where she served as vice president of community relations. She spent years as a member and then chair of Community Board 1, where she advocated for transportation improvements and green development.
Remauro returned to her entrepreneurial roots several years ago when she opened the Von Agency, a full service PR and social media management firm.
“We handle promotion, branding and website development,” Remauro said. “We’ve handled everything from small businesses to Nicole Malliotakis’ mayoral campaign.”
And although she admits to obstacles throughout her career, Remauro is quite proud of her success. “Look at who I am — married at 16, two children by the time I was 19, a failed business owner in my 20s — I wasn’t supposed to make it,” Remauro said. “But I jumped every hurdle. And I may not have taken a traditional route to get to where I am, but I still made it. No one can stand in the way of a strong woman who believes in herself and surrounds herself with positive people.”
and Danielle Buchell
Owners, Millennium Medical Billing
More than 10 years ago, Jane Calder and Danielle Buchell were working together at a Staten Island billing company when their boss died unexpectedly and the business was left in uncertainty.
“It was a very sad situation,” Calder noted. “She was a wonderfully intelligent woman and we had the pleasure of working with and learning from her.”
But with no employment prospects on the horizon and a collection of customers suddenly without a necessary service, Calder and Buchell made a decision to pick up the remaining accounts and start their own business.
“It was a scary decision,” Calder said. “But Danielle and I work well together and our experiences are complementary.”
Calder, a former pastry chef who also worked in merchandising and marketing before getting her billing certification, had plenty of management experience, while Buchell excelled in computer proficiency. They launched Millennium Medical Billing in March 2009 and for the past nine years have continued to expand and grow.
“In our line of business, we’re responsible for handling providers’ finances, so you need to have a good name for yourself,” Calder said. “And it takes time and referrals to build that trust.”
Their company offers specialized services for providers all over the country, but the business owners are proud to be a part of the Staten Island business community. In 2015, the duo hosted a fundraiser for a local boy with congenital heart disease.
“That’s what being a business in this borough is all about,” Calder said, detailing Millennium’s involvement with Heart of Nicholas. “We’re happy to give back as much as we can.”
Broker, Salmon Real State
After graduating from the College of Staten Island with a bachelor’s degree in business management, Christine DeHart went to work for her family business, which handled property management and construction in Staten Island for more than 40 years. When she desired to add a new dimension to her services, she applied for her real estate license.
“I went to work for John Salmon, who has a wealth of knowledge in the industry and helped me transition into being a full-time real estate agent,” DeHart said. “Under John’s leadership, I built the DeHart Real Estate Team and have found great success within the Staten Island community.”
For DeHart, real estate was a natural progression of her property management work.
“Growing up, I was always on a construction site with my dad,” DeHart said. “So I am familiar with every phase of building from excavation to completion. I think that gives me an advantage over other agents who do not have that experience.”
Certified by the national Association of Realtors as an internet Real Estate E-Pro, DeHart is also a senior real estate specialist, a designation that means she has the knowledge and expertise to counsel clients 50 and over through major financial and lifestyle transitions in relocating, refinancing or selling the family home.
“I think the biggest misconception about real estate is that it is a part-time business,” DeHart said. “A good agent is dedicated to the job seven days a week.”
DeHart is a member of the North Shore Rotary Club. She chairs an annual event to support the autistic community of Staten Island and serves on committees that raise funds for various charities.
“I have been blessed with a great family and had a wonderful start in life. Now I feel the need to give back to those that may need a helping hand. I love it when I get to see the effect my hard work has on the community,” she said.
Partner, Johnson & Langworthy
After graduating from Colgate University and Albany Law School, Leslie Langworthy started her law career at a small firm in Fulton County before becoming a trust officer for Manufacturers Bank and the Bank of New York.
“This is what I always wanted to do, the career I strived for,” she noted.
She later joined the legal staff of the Bank of New York and concentrated on credit facilities and bank regulatory matters before joining the staff of Carella, Byrne, Bain & Gilfillan in Roseland, N.J., as an associate attorney. While there, she handled acquisitions and divestitures for an investment company and provided counsel to an investment advisory firm.
In 1990, she returned to Staten Island, her hometown, to be of counsel and later a partner with Johnson & Langworthy, where she concentrates on estate planning, trust and estate settlement and general corporate practice.
“I so enjoy working with the people of Staten Island,” she said. “This is truly a wonderful place to live and work.”
Langworthy has served on the board of directors of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Staten Island Children’s Museum and the Friends of Blue Heron Park. She co-founded Staten Island Vote Yes, Inc., a grass roots organization advocating for borough self-government. She also served as treasurer to the Staten Island Herb Society and served on the Board of the International Herb Association.
Owner, Emily’s Boutique
When Emily Rassias opened her eponymous boutique in 1982, she faced many challenges.
“Being young and female in an industry dominated by men was very difficult,” she noted. “I was originally perceived as inexperienced and constantly had to prove myself.”
In addition to the difficulties associated with maintaining a small business, Rassias was faced with the challenge of working full time while raising three young daughters.
“Having to juggle work and personal obligations was often overwhelming,” she said. “It took many years of hard work, long hours and perseverance to get to where I am today. Building and maintaining personal relationships with vendors and clients helped me grow.”
For Rassias, an important part of the process was learning how to do business in her hometown.
“Staten Island is a very unique place,” she said. “Being so close to New York City, where the best of the best is available, you really have to work hard to keep your clients on the Island. You have to make your business the most convenient and dependable option for them. In addition to knowing they are going to find the perfect outfit or dress, they want the service. For 35 years, we continue to provide an extraordinary shopping experience. Many of my clients I’ve known for decades, and they are among the most rewarding relationships I have today. I’ve sold them their prom dresses, then gowns for their friend’s weddings, then gowns for their own children’s weddings.”
Rassias fosters those relationships by remaining an integral part of the business community.
“Being a part of the community and keeping up with what’s happening in the neighborhood is important,” Rassias said. “In 2016, I helped develop the Richmond Road Merchant’s Association, which I remain an active participant of today. Additionally, Emily’s supports local schools and charities with donations to their events whenever we can.”
A factor that supports her store’s mission is unrivaled customer service.
“Our priority is customer service,” she concluded. “The most important thing is that our clients walk away feeling confident and looking amazing. It’s all about the experience.”
Owner, Contrino Travel
Beginning her career as a travel consultant just before September 11, 2001, Valarie Contrino worked concurrently for several years as an insurance broker for a large commercial brokerage firm in Parsippany after being relocated after the World Trade Center attacks.
“I opened my own agency in February of 2005 and in 2008 made the life-changing decision to leave my well-paying job and focus on travel full time,” Contrino said. “Given the economic climate at the time, it was truly a leap of faith but I was determined to make it work.”
Ten years later, Contrino Travel is thriving. “I owe my success to a lot of great people in this industry who supported me along the way,” Contrino said.
Contrino, a certified travel associate, has traveled extensively herself — some of her favorite destinations include Hong Kong, Japan, Western Europe, North America, the Caribbean and Mexico. Particularly proud of her designation as a Hawaii Destination Specialist, Contrino has also earned specialist titles with Vegas, Disney and Sandals/Beaches. She has also earned the LGBT Lifestyle Specialist designation. Contrino also places great emphasis on giving back to her community. As a member of the newly founded group, Staten Island Career Coaches, she mentors students preparing for their entry into the workforce and serves as an adjunct professor for the College of Staten Island’s Workforce Development Programs.
“Running this business is a dream come true,” Contrino concluded. “Every day I am able to help people plan some of the happiest moments of their life. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Owner, Suzanne’s Fashion Corner
Suzanne Berelson was working as a commercial artist at J. Walter Thompson when both of her parents became ill and she had to take a leave of absence to run the family business.
“My mother started this business in 1951, selling house dresses and blouses,” Berelson said. “It was never her intention for her children to take over the shop, but when she became ill, that’s what I did.”
Berelson instantly fell in love with the business. Adding a full baby shop and introducing formal wear, the shopkeeper invigorated the Forest Avenue boutique with new brands and unique fashion finds.
“We put in a huge amount of Communion and Christening and added accessories and costume jewelry, too,” Berelson said. “We turned it into a mini department store with items that the manufacturers will only sell to us, not the majors.”
All changes Berelson said were a success because she listened to her customers.
“Once you shop here, you fall in love with the store,” she said. “My staff has been with me for years — we know each and every one of our customers by name.”
Six years ago, the store owner expanded once again, creating a website so she could reach customers around the world.
“It completely changed my business,” she said.
Although she has weathered many economic changes in the 56 years she has been running the store, Berelson says her business savvy is what helped her survive.
“The economy is like a roller coaster ride,” she concluded. “But when you’ve been in business as long as we have, you know what to do. At the end of the day, I really love this store, and that’s what makes Suzanne’s a success.”
Owner, Bozo’s Army and Navy
Laura Parenti-Norden basically grew up on the selling floor of her father’s New Dorp business.
“I used to come here every day after school and I spent most weekends here, too,” the retailer said, speaking of Bozo’s Army and Navy, which opened its doors in 1973.
“It’s been a family business for 45 years, inspired by the Brooklyn stores of my grandfather and great-grandfather before him.”
Parenti-Norden, who worked as an accountant at Dun and Bradstreet for several years before taking an ownership role almost two decades ago, says she has witnessed a number of changes to the business during its lengthy selling span.
“We’ve always sold basic work clothes, boots and other supplies, but also participated in many trends, offering Gloria Vanderbilt and Jordache Jeans and even retained a large account with Nike for some time.”
But the focus has always remained on providing unrivaled customer service.
“We have very loyal customers who have been with us for decades,” Parenti-Norden said. “And even though a lot of our brands can be purchased online, shoppers continually come back for the personal attention and quality products that we provide.”
Parenti-Norden places great importance on giving back. She serves on the boards of the Staten Island Seaman’s Society and the Staten Island Giving Circle.
“I think it’s very important to find your balance,” she concluded. “As a business owner, it is necessary to serve a purpose in the community in which you live and work.”
Owner, Bamboo Salon
Amanda Intoccia earned a degree in arts administration from Wagner College before taking on a co-ownership role at her mother’s Richmond salon.
“My mom opened this salon and I would always assist here after school and on weekends,” Intoccia said of Bamboo, which her mother Caryann Concilio launched in 2003.
“I never realized this would be my career path, but while working here as an assistant, I developed such a passion for the business.
“After college, I went to Paul Mitchell in New Dorp and got my license.”
Together with Concilio, Intoccia launched an education training program and committed herself to propelling her business forward.
“Fundraising, networking, even forming a support group with other business owners in which we discuss best business practices,” Intoccia said. “We made every possible move to continue the growth of Bamboo Salon.”
In 2014, Intoccia submitted an essay to Modern Salon Magazine and won a $30,000 makeover for her salon. “We were coming up on our 10-year anniversary and I was thinking of what the next 10 years would hold,” the business owner said. “I wrote from the heart and was awarded with new styling stations and equipment. It was a very proud moment for us.”
In the past several years, the entrepreneurial skills of Intoccia’s family have spread: Her mother recently opened a women’s clothing boutique and her husband launched a bakery in a nearby strip mall.
In the near future, the stylist hopes to expand upon Bamboo’s success with a second location.
“My advice to other women in business is to just go for it,” Intoccia concluded. “If you’re passionate and feel strongly about chasing your dream, stay focused and do it. Life’s too short not to do what you love.”