FOR THIS LOCAL BUSINESSMAN, COMMUNITY OUTREACH AND CHARITABLE WORK ARE THE KEYS TO HAPPINESS
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
When Cory Schifter, president and owner of Casale Jewelers, took over the family business in 2009, he had ambitious plans for his father’s jewelry operation. That business, the Independent Jewelers Market, founded in 1986, operated like a flea market, renting out stalls to jewelry makers. After taking it over, Schifter moved it to a luxurious storefront in the Dongan Hills neighborhood of Staten Island and began the transition from jewelry market to high end retailer. Still, while the new owner had a vision, his marketing budget was less than robust. Those early days were quiet, he recalled, and he soon realized he would need to get creative to get customers through the front door.
“I remember one of my first promotions was to offer a free watch battery,” explained Shifter. “I was in my back office on the day of the promotion, and I remember hearing the doorbell ring. I was so happy. When I went downstairs, I saw all older men with Ziplock bags screaming that I didn’t put ‘One Per Customer’ on the ad [laughs]. I was just waiting for the point where I could slip away and run back in the office. My manager told me I had to come back down and handle it, and I remember thinking, ‘But I’ve never done this before!’ ”
Early promotional missteps aside, the new owner was a quick study, and joined the local chamber of commerce in an attempt to soak up as much knowledge as he could about running a small business on the island.
“I asked a lot of questions, read a lot of articles, and tried to self educate as much as possible,” he said. “But what I really wanted to do was go out there and do community service.”
Still in the process of getting the store off the ground, Schifter didn’t have any money to contribute to local philanthropic initiatives, so he decided to offer a commodity even more precious to a small business owner: his time. He got involved everywhere he could, including local fundraisers, mixers, Chamber of Commerce events, and charity walks. After a full day’s work in the store, he would drive straight to a local charity event, building an ever stronger connection to a community he has called home since age four.
“And I began building my brand that way,” Schifter said. “For me, that process is not about buying an ad. I wanted to make an impact and do something fun.”
One of Schifter’s most fruitful early ideas came to him while crossing the Outerbridge in the summer of 2010. Aware of how much traffic the bridge sees during peak season, he had recently priced out a billboard to promote the store’s bridal department, but couldn’t afford the $42,000 price tag. Needing an alternative marketing plan, he elected, instead, to give away a $10,000 engagement ring.
“Race for the Ring was a catalyst to get customers through the door and a way to give back to local charities,” he said. “We had couples do different things in order to win a ring, including doing dance contests, scavenger hunts, social media posts, and sponsorships. The couples also invited family and friends to a comedy night, and we donated all the money raised to charity. Over 10 years, we have been able to give close to $125,000 to different organizations in the community.”
As the store’s popularity began to grow, so did Schifter’s community involvement. He set up tables at various fundraising events and donated items, including a diamond necklace and a trip to Walt Disney World. He also joined the boards of local philanthropic organizations, including the Emergency Children’s Help Organization and the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island. He signed up for charity walks with his family, began mentoring aspiring business owners through the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur Academy, and co spearheaded the creation of Sunrise Day Camp, a free day camp for children battling cancer and their siblings.
“I can’t ask people for things; it’s just not my gift. My gift is to find creative ways to support charities,” he explained. “As a small business, we can’t just fork up $2,000 in cash, but we can creatively get a message out there to show people who we are. We are a caring business, and want to support our community, and are so grateful that it is also supporting us.”
In 2012, the store earned national recognition by way of a contest called Big Breaks for Small Businesses, sponsored by Facebook and American Express, that rewards the most innovative small businesses in the country. Thousands entered, but there were only five winners. Casale Jewelers was one.
“Not only did we win a $25,000 grant package, but Facebook actually came to Staten Island and allowed us to invite businesspeople in the community to get trained on how to use social media to grow,” said Schifter. “They helped teach us how to brand our company. That was a big moment for us.”
Flash forward to 2020. Casale Jewelers has grown into one of the largest retail jewelry stores in Staten Island, with a customer base that stretches from Long Island to the Jersey Shore. It carries every thing from household designer names to the hottest up and comers in bridal, precious stones, high fashion, and haute horology.
While the days of wondering how to get customers through the door are in the past, the owner’s community centric marketing strategy hasn’t changed. And these days, though the father of three is spending more time at home with his family instead of attending up to nine fundraisers a week, he’s still paying for breakfast for an entire restaurant on Giving Tuesday and dressing up as a superhero to deliver toys to kids.
“At the end of the day, just bringing happiness and joy to people is what I wanted to do,” he said. “If that also helps our business, then that’s great.”
1639 Richmond Road / 718.351.8300