Business: Octogenarians closing Basketworks & Mother after 40 years

08/17/2011 6:33 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Basketworks & Mother owners Shirley and Matthew Gabriner at the shop on Sunday.

After more than 40 years in business, Basketworks & Mother on Greenport’s Main Street will be closing its doors within the next month, giving two of the village’s hardest working seniors a chance to finally retire.

Shirley and Matthew Gabriner, now 85 and 89 years old, respectively, were almost empty nesters when they first opened the shop in 1970, planning to use the proceeds from the new venture to send their three kids to college.

It turns out that the shop not only sent their children to college but also provided the owners with a second career to keep them busy well after their friends began retiring.

“Greenport was in dire straits at the time. We used to open for the summer and close on Labor Day,” Mr. Gabriner recalled as he entertained customers in the shop last week.

The Greenport shop provided summer jobs for their children, Nancy, Daniel and Alice, during college, and all three played an integral role in stocking and running the enterprise. It was initially just called “Basketworks,” but they later added the “Mother” when Ms. Gabriner became more involved as her children graduated and began careers.

“Originally, we figured if Nancy ran Basketworks for the summer, she could earn way more than she would earn at a regular job.

We did the same for all three children,” said Ms. Gabriner this week. “It became a summer job that kept us away from student loans.”

The children have all gone on to successful careers, Nancy as a television producer, Daniel as a software writer who later became a high school math teacher, and Alice as a photograph editor at the White House.

“They all left Basketworks & Mother in the dust,” said Ms. Gabriner. “But I guess it was a good training ground for them.”

After the children left, the store was mostly Ms. Gabriner’s baby, while her husband worked in a shop they owned in East Meadow called Walls & Things.

“I really retired from my other business in 2004. I worked in this store part-time until then,” said Mr. Gabriner. “My wife enjoys buying the inventory and I enjoy selling it.”

They paid careful attention to inventory, selling not only baskets and wicker furniture but also lamps, clocks, rugs, antique bird cages, picnic baskets and other unique pieces of home decor.

Ms. Gabriner, who was an art history major at Brooklyn College and a painter, is “a good picker” of fine merchandise, said her husband.

“You can buy things no one wants, but that’s not what happened,” he said.

“I called it ‘flight of fancy,’” said Ms. Gabriner. “Whatever I found that struck me as interesting. We wanted it to be a little more unique. We bought handmade things from around the world. I loved to support American craftsmen, but that became difficult. Retail is changing. The Internet is changing so many things.”

In addition to Walls & Things, which the couple owned for 20 years, Mr. Gabriner also ran a shop called Country Lights in Woodmere for 21 years.

When Basketworks opened, it was in a space rented from the now-closed Arcade department store on Front Street. In 1983 the Gabriners moved to their own building on Main Street, where they’ve continued to expand the shop’s offerings to include women’s clothing, art and jewelry. Mr. Gabriner picks out the wicker and the lamps, while his wife selects the other merchandise.

The couple has a home in Brooklyn, where they plan to spend more time once they close up shop. When working in Greenport, they live with Ms. Gabriner’s brother in New Suffolk.

They plan to stay open for about another month, if their inventory lasts that long. Everything in the shop is on sale for half price.

“We decided at the beginning of July to close, weighing all the factors: the economy, our age and health, our children’s lack of interest,” said Ms. Gabriner. “It seemed the right time. We are really sorry to no longer be a vital part of Greenport. It’s been a lot of fun.”

The two don’t have detailed plans for their second retirement.

“I don’t want to do anything but walk around upright,” Mr. Gabriner said.

“I might have more time to have lunch with friends,” said Ms. Gabriner.

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