When Laurie Scheinman’s father was dying of lung cancer in 2012, she decided to fix up a property she owned and turn it into retail store.
As a result, she opened wit & whim, a philanthropic gift store in Port Washington that sells handcrafted products and donates 11 months of its proceeds to local charities.
On Oct. 21, the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce named Scheinman its 2016 Small Businessperson of the Year.
“I was thrilled when I found out I won,” Scheinman said. “I was surprised because there are so many amazing businesses and business owners in Port Washington. It’s incredible to be recognized for the work that I have done.”
Scheinman said when she began renovating the property with her father, she thought it was just a way to keep him busy and never imagined a business actually emerging from it.
“I literally thought we were just humoring him, and then one thing led to the next,” Scheinman said.
Wit & whim, at 6 Carlton Ave., is in its fifth year, and Scheinman said marketing the store is the most difficult challenge she faces every day.
“This is a different market,” Scheinman said. “People know about the store, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. It’s important for people to support small businesses — not just in Port Washington, but throughout the country.”
Every month, wit & whim throws a “kick-off party” for the charity its proceeds are going to for people to come into the store and learn about the charity and shop.
The store also hosts events for children and adults, Scheinman said, “which mixes things up and brings new people into the store.”
During Port Washington’s Restaurant Week, diners received a $10 coupon to wit & whim with their bill.
Despite the struggle to market the store and its philanthropic idea, Scheinman said, she still enjoys working every day, but it is a juggling act with her family and her career as a child and family therapist.
“It’s still fun every day,” she said, “and I totally love it, but sometimes doing it gets hard, because I’m devoting an incredible amount of time to it each day.”
Scheinman said she thinks her commitment to the Port Washington community on a larger scale helped her receive this year’s chamber honor.
“I raised my kids in Port, and I love Port,” she said. “We intend on staying her and we’re interested in Port Washington in a bigger way, not just because of wit & whim.”
With the small-business market shrinking, Scheinman urged potential business owners to “take chances and risks and try different things.”
“To open a small business you have to be lighthearted and humorous,” she said. “You can’t forget who you are and pretend to be someone else. The business just won’t work.”
Scheinman is still figuring out the plan for the future of wit & whim, but for now, she said, “we’re just going to keep committing ourselves to it.”
This month, wit & whim is donating its proceeds to Friends of the Port Washington Public Library.
In the past, it has donated to charities and organizations all over Long Island, including the Manhasset-based Coalition Against Substance Abuse, the Long Island Arts Alliance and the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post. It also donates money to national organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Red Cross.