Widgets Magazine

Angela Oliveri-Deroski of Sweet Indulgences & the Garden at the Heart of Greenport

Q: How did you get to the North Fork? A: My late husband was born and raised here; he was born at Greenport Manor—it's now ELIH—and was raised in Cutchogue.

We met in New Jersey, I was a teacher at the time. When we got married there in 1985, I had moved on to a career in fashion.  He was Vice-President of Merchandising for McCory’s, a large chain of five and dime stores. When we married, we bought a home in New Jersey, and we decided to get a summer place out here. That was in 1987.

Q: You were a teacher? Now you’re a shopkeeper, running a store that features such an eclectic mix of, well, indulgences—from chocolates to home décor to jewelry and more. What did you teach?

A: I was in home economics. I taught fashion and design, and the human growth and child development end of it. The seventies were a great time to be teaching, there was so much creativity. I loved teaching.

I was teaching seniors in East Rutherford—in addition to teaching fashion design, I started a program in child development and psychology. It was human growth and development in the first semester, and then it was child development. In the second.  My students would prepare lesson plans, and then we had preschoolers come into the class. My student would teach them from 11 am to 3 pm. I’m still in touch with some of my students.

As the many pictures show, Sweet Indulgences is an eclectic emporium of great items: photo-oct-04-17 photo-oct-04-16photo-oct-04Q: Ok, so how did you get from teaching fashion and child development to NJ high school seniors to being a Greenport shopkeeper?

A: Well, I left teaching for the fashion industry. My husband for J.J. Newberry, which was bought by McCory Corp. After my husband had been with the company 32 years—he was 16 years older than me—the newest President came in and let a hundred people go. I’d also lost my job at that time, so there we were, with two houses and no jobs.

We’d been fiscally conservative, so we had two years of expenses saved for a rainy day. Eventually, we put both houses on the market, and decided to live in which ever one we didn’t sell first. Both were hard to sell because our New Jersey house was a Frank Lloyd Wright house, which is extraordinary to live in, but not for everyone. Our Cutchogue house was hard to sell also since the market had crashed and it was worth considerably less than what we’d paid for it.

After two years, we sold the Frank Lloyd Wright house. We moved here, though I had gotten a new job in the fashion industry. I was splitting my time between New Jersey, staying with my mom, and here. We did that for a few years.

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My husband was 60 years old then, he had been in charge of the East Coast region. Employment was difficult in 1993.  He was either overqualified, too old, or both. So we started our own business, had it for five years before buying the property we’re in now.

My husband had built his career on candy and Christmas—he stocked more than those items for McCory’s, but they were his favorite things. So we opened Sweet Indulgences, at that time in a little space opposite the Greenport movie theater in what was then called the Victoria Village mall.

photo-oct-04-13photo-oct-04-24photo-oct-04-22photo-oct-04-23Q: Wow, there’s a lot to follow up on. Tell me about the Frank Lloyd Wright house.

A: Well, you have to understand that my husband was quite a man and a voracious reader—when he grew up out here Cutchogue had a one room school house and his teacher told me he was the only one that not only read every book in the library but he read them twice. When I married him I knew that his two heroes were Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.  When we were looking to buy a house in New Jersey, and stumbled upon the Frank Lloyd Wright house, I found out that the architect was right up there with Lincoln and Jefferson, and we just had to have that house. [To see recent pictures of that house, see here.]

When we bought the place the property had been neglected. My husband and father spent hundreds of hours remaking the property, planting hundreds of flowers, a rose garden, a line of trees.  Shortly before my husband died, 11 years ago, the New York Times did an article on the house, and focused in part on how beautiful the gardens were. That gave my husband great satisfaction.

Q: Cool. It must have been wonderful to live in such an extraordinary place.  You mentioned opening Sweet Indulgences as a ‘Candy and Christmas’ shop in the old mall across from the movie theater. How did it become the more diverse emporium across from the intersection of Front St. and Main St.?

A:  We were in the mall for two years. We moved to Main Street, to part of the space where Lucharitos is now. We were there for three years.  The Lucharitos spot was slightly bigger, so I started buying other kinds of items for the store.

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In NYC there was a building at 225 Fifth Avenue, which was where 100s of companies had their showrooms.  I’d go there on my lunch hour, and buy for the store. The items would sell out by the weekend. One of the geniuses of the store was that he and I tended to buy very different things for different markets. We have a very diversified price point, so everyone could find something.

And customer service was--is--key. Regardless if you were buying the $19.99 cutting board or the $400 cutting board or the one in middle, we would wrap it the same, treat the people the same.  Even then we were open seven days, all year long. (Except for a few months when my mother was ill.)

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The place we are in now was a laundry mat back then, with a parking lot out front. Greenport was very different back then.  After we’d been in the Lucharitos space for a couple of years, the laundry mat went on the market. My husband wanted to buy it immediately, but I was skeptical, both of the commitment and because I didn’t see Greenport’s potential then. He did—he was a history buff and he knew that Greenport had a mind of its own, was a place with a rich history. He knew how it had been the center of everything back in the 1800s and how it would be again.

He convinced me, and we bought it.

Q: It’s hard to imagine there was a parking lot in front of your store; you have such a lovely garden there now. Why did you do that conversion? Isn’t parking handy to have?

A: That was my husband. He said: We have to tear up the parking lot and put in the garden. This is the center of Greenport. Everyone has to stop at that stop sign and look here.

The view from the stop sign at the heart of Greenport:

photo-oct-04-5And so many people live above these stores, they walk around, we have to give them something beautiful.

That was my classic husband, very altruistic, thinking about the whole community. I told him he was crazy, we should build out to the street, expand our store, but he insisted. So we tore up the parking lot.

He stocked it with beautiful plants, trees and flowers.

photo-oct-04-7We have so many special plants: tree peonies, a black iris, a crepe myrtle, passion vines. In hindsight it was so wonderful. He loved it. I love it. The number of people who take pictures there, who are drawn to it--he was such a visionary.

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Fourteen years ago my husband was diagnosed with a rare leukemia. I moved out full time one week later and that’s when the store became my full time job too.

When he passed away, I had been out here working the store full time for three years.

Q: So that’s the story of the garden at the heart of Greenport, one with roots in the gardens of a Frank Lloyd Wright house and even deeper roots in a local boy’s history-based vision of Greenport and love of community. That’s beautiful. Now that you’ve been running the store full time for fourteen years—as at least your third career after teaching and fashion—what do you like most about it?

A: My store is a happy place! I appreciate the freedom to buy what I like for the store; it’s an incredible freedom of expression, I change my merchandise often. I added a 'jewelry room' and that has been a great accomplishment. I enjoy being creative and the challenge of buying and trying to choose what my customers will want.

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I also love the children who come in. Kids are so authentic. One day this kid comes in a stroller, he’s probably less than three years old, and they get through the door and he yells “I smell chocolate”!  The store went silent, and his mom leaned over and said, no son, this isn’t a candy store. I had to go over to her quietly and let her know her son was right. She was amazed.

I love the physical natural beauty of the North Fork. I've traveled extensively and I feel it is a very tranquil and special place.

I also love the people out here; I’ve made friends who’ve become my family.