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Giving It Their All

Never one to shy away from a challenge, retail pro Chris Connelly has revamped and reimagined her Greenvale, NY, baby clothing store Tutti, which in Italian, means “all.”

Miriam Montgomery, Chris Connelly, Carol Connelly

Chris Connelly has been through her shares of industry ups and downs. After all, she had been in the childrenswear business for more than 30 years and had weathered all kinds of storms. But a global pandemic? This was the biggest—and potentially most destructive—business storm yet.

Chris had already experienced a series of changes that began after the 2008 economic recession. In 2009, she closed her Upper East Side location, Tutti Bambini NY, to focus solely on her Long Island outpost. Later on in 2017, she shuttered that to opened Tutti, which carried a more narrow and deep merchandise mix of newborn to size 8 (Tutti Bambini carried up to size 16). Tutti was bigger in square footage yet significantly more intimate. “We created it to maintain our cozy feeling, because we didn’t want to lose that original feeling of our smaller space,” Chris says. “We have dedicated departments to meet all of our customer needs. We created an Instagram studio and a layette appointment room. Every inch of the space is dedicated to making our store more efficient and comfortable.”

Chris’ new partner was none other than her 21-year-old stylishly creative daughter, Carol. “With my experience and her Millennial point of view, things really just took off,” she enthuses. “I have so many young moms now, and they love her cool style. When we do our buying, she has a different vision and so we are a great combination.” Chris also harnessed the expertise of her sister, Miriam Montgomery, for merchandising and store design.

Custom display created with Tutti’s retail architect

These three musketeers set out to conquer baby wear needs in the Long Island suburbs.

March 2020. No one was buying anything or going anywhere, unless you were an essential worker or owned an essential business.

And Tutti was an essential business. Clothes for baby were considered essential. Now Chris and Carol had to figure out how to safely get items that customers wanted into their hands. First, they set up three shifts at the store to maintain social distancing. “Since our customers couldn’t come to us, we had to figure out how to get to them,” Chris says. “We bumped up our social media and texted our customers to let them know that we were here and operating. We texted them photos, did FaceTime appointments and offered free local delivery. As we were doing that, the word was spreading that we were operating, and more and more people were contacting us for all of their needs.”

The other phenomenon occurring was the droves of families leaving New York City for more space in the suburbs. No matter what’s happening in the world, babies will always be growing out of their clothes. “Everybody needed things. They needed pajamas and loungewear, and when it was got warmer, they needed summer clothes,” she says. “There were also more birthdays and babies being born.” Tutti’s business kept trucking along.

There was another unexpected benefit for kids’ retailers—due to supply-chain disruptions, the flow of the next season’s merchandise slowed to a welcome pace. “We’re so used to getting our shipments so early so that we’re selling fall in July. Then during Covid, fall orders were coming in August and September so that I had a longer selling season for my summer stuff, Chris explains. “People really prefer it that way and I do, too.”

Warm and fuzzy wall
of layette accessories

Local makers also got a type of visibility and opportunity they might not have ever had without a global pandemic. Chris sourced a number of one-woman suppliers in the area who were creating in-demand looks, such as tie-dye hoodies with beads. “I could call them, and they could bring the items right to my store. A lot of these businesses were booming because you couldn’t get things from overseas.” Although she is quick to point out, “Don’t get me wrong, people still love all the European items. But we’ve been dealing with a lot of local people and getting special, unique things from them.”

As the pendulum slowly shifts from loungewear all day every day, customers big and small are ready to get more dressed. However, comfort remains key, so Chris makes sure to stock collections with super soft materials—and her clients have a new level of appreciation for it. “This is so nice, both from the manufacturing and retail point of view, that the customer is appreciating the hand of the fabric.”  Tutti stocks collections from Louise Misha, Bonton, Morley, NuNuNu, Kissy Kissy, Baby Noomie, Oh Baby, Posh Peanut, Petit Haley, Dori Leggings, Hope Jeans, Tiny Whales, California Vintage, Sweet Wink, Splendid, and Chaser. Spring/summer trends include lightweight gauze and linen fabrics in fun prints and solids as well as single tone tie-dye and ombré, which have replaced neons and brighter tie-dye patterns that were so popular during Covid. Along those lines, anything “happy” such as butterflies and smiley faces are also selling well.

Of course, fabric wasn’t the only thing that customers learned to appreciate during the pandemic. Service reigned supreme. “Everyone can pretty much buy whatever they want online,” Chris says. “But the feeling that our customers they get when they come into our store and we know their name, and we know what they like—you can only get that in a specialty store. In today’s environment, service can make or break a business. Maintaining the customer relationship is priceless to me.”

When it comes to her advice for other retailers, the list is relatively short but vital. Number one, have a social media presence. Two, purchase a POS system that tracks inventory and what customers are buying. Last, but not at all least, develop a great team of people who are as passionate about doing business as you are. Chris says that her staff is truly a family with very little turnover; many employees have been with her for 10 years. One or two sales people are even helping the grandchildren of original Tutti Bambini NY customers. “You have to really love what you do, and everyone who’s in your store has to love what they do.”

June 2021. Tutti moves to a new space. It’s two doors down from the prior location, but any kind of move is a massive undertaking, especially after a global pandemic. Chris and her team install custom display pieces, including a giant shelving unit in the shape of a heart. And that, dear readers, is how Tutti always gives it their all.

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