BAYONNE, NJ - When the state issued its state of emergency on March 19 most people assumed Herbert’s Army and Navy Store would remain open as an essential service. Even Maria Provenzano-Upenieks was shocked when she was ordered to shudder her doors.
She was halfway between changing over stock from winter to spring. So, the front windows were half redecorated.
A mainstay in Bayonne’s business community since 1928, Provenzano-Upenieks, started as an employee there just after graduating from high school in 1974, eventually taking over the business entirely with her husband Kenneth "Skip" Upenieks 19 years ago. Skip passed away in 2018 and Maria has run it on her own since.
Of course, she was concerned about being forced to close. Business is tough even on good days especially with the mall down on Route 440, she told TAPinto Bayonne, but the quality merchandise she offers brings the shoppers back.
“I have a lot of loyal customers who know what I offer,” she said just days after finding out she’d be able to reopen.
“It’s wonderful that the store is reopening,” said Mayor Jimmy Davis, who called himself one of the store’s biggest fans, and said he was puzzled when the state did not declare them an essential service.
“Jimmy is one of our customers,” Maria said. “So, he knows what we offer here and how essential is to the community.”
She ran down a list of manufacturers, such as Carhartt and Timberland. “We have Levi’s that are made to last,” she said.
Her products also include workwear – such as uniforms for many of the companies along the waterfront – as well as footwear, casual wear, and most recently safety gear to provide protection against the spread of COVID-19. “We have good masks,” she said. “And we have this all over protection that can be used for other situations such as painting.”
She shows a package of a durable yet lightweight plastic suit, a kind of hazmat suit, but one that can be slipped on and off easily.
Recognizing a need to diversify from a previous stock that relied almost solely on outdoor and work clothing, they also became an authorized dealer of school uniforms, which, unfortunately, Maria said, she won’t be able to sell until September when schools hopefully reopen.
The store will have limited hours at first 10 a. m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but Maria has a lot of work to do, changing stock to fit the upcoming season and to finally finished redecorating the window she started to decorate in March. “People have been coming in to wish us luck” Maria said. “We don’t get crowds and maintain social distance. But our customers will return because they know what we offer.”
“I’m doing best to bring back business,” she said. “We have the best customers in the world.”
For his part, Davis, who plans on introducing a blueprint for Bayonne’s return to business in early June, said that he is continuing to work to get more reopenings. “I spent a good part of my four years in office trying to build back up the business community along Broadway,” he said. “Then, we got with COVID-19.”
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