by Will Fowler
In 1996, Judy Philactos quit her job at Dean and DeLuca and took the first steps toward running her own business.
“I decided I wanted to do something on my own rather than work in what was becoming a very corporate atmosphere,” she said. “I started as a home business, I did gift baskets.”
Using connections from her previous job and connections in the community, Philactos founded Periwinkle, the gift shop at 3815 Livingston Street that has supplied the neighborhood with boutique gifts, fine chocolates and candies for more than two decades. She soon found working from home isolating, and decided to take another big leap.
“What I really loved was the interaction with people, so I looked for store fronts, and that’s how I found the space on Livingston street,” she said. “I didn’t really choose the location, there wasn’t a lot available. I was reticent at first, since it was on a side street, but I realized it had a hair salon next door, a cleaner two doors away, and a Starbucks on the corner, which is guaranteed foot traffic.”
Opening just ahead of the December gift season, business was excellent. Although the store went through occasional depressions in business (like during the Beltway sniper attacks), sales always rebounded.
“It really hasn’t changed,” Philactos said. “I’ve always been able to maintain a strong customer base.”
She credits that to giving her business an individual touch by personally selecting every item sold at the store and keeping a tight-knit staff. But over the years, maintaining a physical location has become difficult.
“It’s become a labor of love,” Philactos said. “It’s open seven days a week, so payroll and rent and all the expenses that go into running a business have increased – my revenue and my sales have not increased.”
That’s why, she said, she decided to close the Periwinkle storefront this summer. Philactos made her decision long before the store shut down due to the pandemic. She plans on continuing the business in some way, but hasn’t decided on exactly how.
“I will figure out a way to reinvent it, either through popups, or doing something custom, or setting up a studio and doing gift baskets,” she said. “There are so many possibilities out there. I’m not giving up Periwinkle.”
Long-time customers have already begun sharing their emails with her so they can continue buying.
“I’ve had a wonderful experience with the shop. The thing I’m going to miss the most is socializing and getting to know the customers that have come in over the last 20 years,” Philactos said. “I’ve employed their kids, who still come back from college and work for me, and people come in to visit. It’s a community-oriented place. I will miss it all, but hopefully I can reinvent it somehow.”