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Marietta's Tips To Survive on Court Street

Celebrating 72 years of business, owners Joe and Mat Chirico share some old-school secrets of succeeding in Carroll Gardens.

Many things have changed along Court Street since 1940. But a handful of original mom-and-pop businesses still dot the landscape, seemingly resistant to the souring economy and changing trends. One symbol of such miraculous longevity is , currently celebrating 72 years of operation. 

With a run like that, we couldn't resist asking brothers —Marietta's sons, who've both run the shop for the last 60—what they've learned. They graciously agreed to share.

Here are Six Tips To Survive on Court Street:

1. Don't Listen To Other People's Opinions

The no-frills, stockroom-like display may not lure you inside with sequins or lacquer. But it doesn't have to. Marietta's decor is just one example of the matter-of-fact approach the Chirico brothers take to selling clothing. "I get a lot of fellas coming in with their wives, retired," said Matty, 85. "I see them looking around while their wives are buying, and I already know what's going to happen."

What's going to happen? "Here it comes," he goes on. "They start saying to me, 'Did you ever think if you put this down here and put that there...' and I always ask them, 'How many businesses have you run?' None. I've run a business this many years, and you're going to tell me how to do it?"

2. Instead, Listen To What Your Customers Need

"The most popular item for us is underwear," said Matty. "It's a small profit, and it's very tedious because you need to have every size and every color. But, everybody needs underwear. And socks—everybody has a certain type of sock they prefer. Most boutiques don't even want to bother—same with the housedresses for the grandmothers. Most places don't sell them. But every time I bought fancy dresses, I couldn't get rid of them."

3. Offer a Job To a Family Member, But Don't Force It On Them

Matty's grandson Matt has worked at the shop part-time for the last six years, commuting with Matty and Joe back and forth from Queens. "I used to put the news on but he likes to play music in the car," said Matty. Matt's older brother chose to become a firefighter in Chinatown instead. "It wasn't for him," said Matt. "Right now, I like it." At this, Matty perked up. "I'd like for him to take the business over when he's done with college," he said. "But if he doesn't want to, that's up to him. He knows I'm glad to give it to him." 

4. Always Check the Insides of Gloves and Jacket Pockets

"A couple of times we've found a woman's engagement ring that got caught inside of a glove while she was trying a pair on," said Joe Chirico, 91. "Or years ago, we used to sell pantyhose without the panty on top, and a woman would take off her ring to put her hand through the pantyhose, then forget the ring. They forget their wallets, or an envelope full of money that they set down on a counter. We put it aside for them. They always come back."

5. If You Get Robbed, Don't Try To Be a Hero

In 72 years of business, Joe and Mat have only been burglarized once and robbed twice. In every instance, the brothers gave their assailants what they wanted and didn't try to fight back. "You don't think I'm going to chase them like in the movies, do you?" said Matty. "Why would I run after someone who might have a gun or a knife? I was taught if you get robbed, never look a criminal in the face. Make like you don't know them."

6. Value Your Store and What It Adds To Your Life

"My wife passed away six years ago, and that was the one time I quit," said Matty. "Why am I back? We laugh, we talk, we joke. At home I'm stuck reading the paper. Here, I've had people coming in from 40, 50 years ago and now new ones coming in. You get to know people."   

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Anthony July 12, 2012 at 02:27 PM
True LOCAL legends!
Danielle Noto July 12, 2012 at 08:49 PM
These guys are great. Especially their approach to organizing. If it isn't broken, don't fix it!
Michael Koski July 13, 2012 at 03:28 AM
I love this store! It reminds me of the "mom and pop" stores that were so prevalent in my neighborhood of the North Bronx growing up in the 1950s. Whenever I stop in to replenish my underwear supply I make it a point to hang out for a while to chat with the two owners as they relate stories and memories of the neighborhood. They are the store are a local treasure and I hope they are around for many more years.
antonia chirico January 27, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Sono contenta di aver letto l'articolo e di aver visto Matt e Joe nelle foto. Sono i miei cugini che io non ho mai visto di presenza!

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