On a Tuesday afternoon in mid-October, a trio of customers shopping inside Sincerely Yours, located at 32 Lake St. in Owego, N.Y., burst into laughter as they browsed a selection of amusing and one-of-a-kind items.
Louise O’Neill, owner of the store, smiled, then paused a moment and remarked, “I’m going to miss that.”
O’Neill announced that she is retiring at the end of the year and is in the process of closing the store.
“It’s really with mixed emotions,” O’Neill said, adding, “It’s been a wonderful 26 year run. As of December 31, Lake Street will begin to look a little different.”
Sincerely Yours, a greeting card and gift store, has been a staple in the downtown Owego shopping district since 1994. Prior to O’Neill’s run, long-time residents will remember the go-to card store and gift shop as Mullen’s. Louise worked there part-time for five-plus years.
When the Mullen’s owner closed the store, O’Neill went to work at a bank. Within a few months, however, Louise was prompted by a suggestion from the former store’s building owner to bring back the beloved card store. Louise decided to take the plunge and drafted a business plan.
The Sincerely Yours sign has been hanging ever since. Louise came up with the store name as a nod to the classic complimentary closing used in correspondence.
When you stroll along or drive down Lake Street, the whirligigs and flags displayed outside of the Sincerely Yours storefront are eye-catching and whimsical, which lends to the carefree spirit of the shop. Walk inside, and a diverse selection of wind chimes greets you. Venture further and you will find an amazing menagerie of merchandise for sale.
Louise explained that she enjoyed introducing nostalgic items, such as Wizard of Oz keepsakes and a stuffed toy named Lambchop, the sidekick to puppeteer Shari Lewis.
Last summer, Louise lost her black lab. Molly often welcomed customers to the shop. A few lines of her merchandise are geared toward furry friends, such as “pet lover socks” that give a portion of proceeds to animal shelters. Louise said choosing merchandise from companies that give back to good causes has been important to her.
During her time on Lake Street, O’Neill has seen a number of stores come and go.
She commented, “I think it takes at least three years to get established. Some of the new businesses didn’t give it enough time before they closed.”
When a car drove through the front of the store’s original location at 21 Lake St. in 2012, the incident caused extensive damage and closed Sincerely Yours for about four months. Louise opted not to take on the repairs and moved across the street to 32 Lake St. in 2013. It had been a tough stretch, considering she had just recovered from the 2011 flood.
The decision to move paved the way for a new business and live venue to open. Today, Owego Original’s Bar and Lounge, next door to Original’s Italian restaurant, occupies the former card shop space.
O’Neill is looking forward to retirement, although she said she’ll miss the downtown Owego vibe, along with the customers, and many who came from afar.
Louise commented, “This community really does support the local merchants,” adding, “I plan to stay in the area and catch up with my life.”
O’Neill said that her two sons, one who lives in Denver and another in Washington, D.C., have their own careers and are not interested in carrying the torch. The door remains open for anyone else interested.
Louise shared a story from her youth. She recalls her mother repeated often that, if she didn’t do well in school, she would end up working for the rest of her life at Woolworth’s, known as the original five-and-dime. O’Neill’s mother passed away before seeing her daughter’s success as a business owner. A little joke shared between Louise and her siblings is that Louise actually did work at a Woolworth’s, and a fact she never revealed to her mother.
“I didn’t work at Woolworth’s for long,” Louise chuckled, and then remarked, “But I did end up owning my own store!”