Morgan Brown ‘17, Julia Knepper ‘17 — Downtown Romeo has a way of inspiring connection. Shop owners become friends, and their customers become family. The close, tight-knit feeling of Romeo creates an environment that is peaceful and fun for anyone who visits, and each shop deserves recognition for their unique flare.
Ms. Elizabeth Gondert has has a story that relates closely to Romeo High School students. Gondert attended the school herself, and was part of a beauty program through Romeo. She even had the fortune of being part of a trade school program. Although Gondert claims that the beauty business is a “very difficult business to build up”, she never gave up. Pursuing her high school dream, she took over the As You Like It Salon in Downtown Romeo, and has been working there for the past 19 years.
Gondert typically runs the shop on her own. But, because of her start in the beauty business, she is sympathetic to those trying to enter the industry, and often hires college students to help her. In fact, a few of her assistants have gone on to start their own businesses and build their own clienteles.
The most important part of any beauty school business, especially a salon, is the clientele. Gondert loves every single person that enters her salon, and embraces the close feeling that radiates around Romeo.
“It’s kind of the Cheers version of a beauty salon,” Gondert said. “Everyone treats one another like a family.”
The salon functions as a full service beauty shop with haircuts, colors, perms, updos, braids, facial waxing, manicures, and pedicures. The store is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm, and on Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm.
Though there are a few other salons downtown, Gondert is satisfied with her clientele and loves running the store.
“Everyone criticizes the fact that there are so many salons in Romeo,” Gondert said. “But like I always say, you can’t find an ugly woman in this town!”
Fifteen years ago, Donna and David Semenas transitioned from a home-run store to their shop downtown, Old World Noveau. The store recently opened a new storefront, leaving more space to display their fashionable furniture.
The store’s slogan, “Affordable Elegance”, perfectly describes the objects displayed in the store. Mr. and Mrs. Semenas sell a variety of bedroom and dining room sets, as well as fun accessories like jewelry, scarves, and even seasonal items like gloves and hats. They truly have a little bit of everything.
Upon entering the store, one will immediately be greeted by two friendly Labrador retrievers named Maximus and Spartacus. Mrs. Semenas says that she brings the dogs to the store to avoid the feeling of a retail shop; she wants her customers to feel comfortable in the store’s environment, fitting with the homey feel of Downtown Romeo.
“People just love to come to Downtown Romeo,” Mrs. Semenas said. “They love coming here to get that downtown feeling.”
The couple loves the atmosphere of the town, adding that Romeo grew at a perfect pace for their store and drastically helped them in building a flexible schedule.
Previously, when the couple worked as teachers, they didn’t have much time to dedicate to their business. Now that Mrs. Semenas is retired, she focuses on building the store, but is always interested in new events at the high school. In fact, Old World Noveau has sponsored and advertised several events for Romeo, such as school plays.
“Since we used to be teachers, we’re always looking out for the kids at the high school,” Semenas said.
Old World Noveau is open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm, on Thursday from 11 am to 8 pm, and on Sunday from 12 pm to 5 pm.
The Paperback Exchange has been open for forty years, and Ms. Jane Jacaruso has owned the store for half of its life. Jacaruso previously worked at a hospital, but when the shop was for sale, it simply “called her name”.
Upon entering the store, one will find that the entire building is lined wall to wall with books. Shelves cover the walls, and some are stacked on the floor. The Paperback Exchange sells several hundred (if not over a thousand) books, and every single one is extremely reasonably priced. For example, the hardcover books that surround the front desk are only 75 cents apiece. New, popular titles can be rented for $2 for two weeks.
The little store has books of every genre: children’s books, science fiction, fantasy, history, mystery, romance, and more. With so many books, it seems almost impossible to keep track of all of them. But in fact, Jacaruso knows exactly what books can be found in her store.
“I don’t have it on a computer; it’s all in my head,” Jacaruso said. “I keep track of every book in this store.”
While books can be purchased in the store, the true intent is for them to be exchanged. If people bring in their used books or magazines, they get a significant discount on the books they purchase from the store. The discount typically gives them half off, but can even be as much as 75% off for paperbacks.
Any book lover could spend days walking around in The Paperback Exchange and leave with their hands completely full.
“For people who love to read, this store is nice because you can get books at a reasonable price,” Jacaruso said.
To read more about some of the other buildings downtown, check out the other installments of our series!