MARLBORO - New York City natives Mike and Wendy Sciavolino, husband-and-wife owners of Small World Kids Boutique in Marlboro, are a testament to the fact that some professional dreams can be realized — twice.
“Mike and I first met at a Staten Island jewelry store we both worked at during college,” said Wendy, who pursued a degree in early childhood education while Mike took an information technology track; they married in 1988.
“After teaching for two years, however, Wendy wanted to go back to retail,” Mike said. “I’d always been an entrepreneur, so we decided to go into business together.”
Though the current Old Bridge residents both had a background in the jewelry business, parenthood would ultimately inform their professional decision.
“We found that there were very few clothing stores we wanted to shop at for our own kids and thought that children’s clothing would be a great business to go into because we and so many of our friends all had little kids,” Wendy said. “There were a number of chain stores out there offering kids’ clothing, but no specialty stores except overpriced high-end outlets. There was nothing in between.”
The pair began selling kids’ clothing at a flea market in East Brunswick in 1989, relocating to a small store in East Brunswick after a year and then a larger store nearby two years later, but the pull of their growing family made Wendy rethink their plan.
“We ultimately closed the store in 1996 because I wanted to focus on raising our four kids,” Wendy said. “But we knew that when the kids were grown, we’d reopen it again because we loved it.”
That moment came nearly 20 years later.
“As our kids got older, I started working part-time at a local jewelry store and saw that kids we used to dress years ago were now coming in for engagement rings,” Wendy said of the ‘small world’ phenomena she experienced. “A lot of customers we’d known in East Brunswick and/or their grown kids — many of whom now had kids of their own — had migrated to Marlboro and we saw that they needed kids’ clothes again.”
The couple knew the time was right. “In 2015, we officially reopened Small World Kids Boutique in a 1,200-square-foot space in Marlboro,” said Mike of the store, which they moved to a larger, free-standing location just down the road this October.
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Quality and variety
In their cozy and newly renovated 3,600-square-foot space, “we offer high-quality clothing starting at newborns and going all the way up to size 16/18 for boys and girls,” Mike said.
“We support customers from the moment a baby is coming — from setting them up with reveal gifts and a layette to attire for a christening/bris, baby naming, communion, bat/bar mitzvah, father/daughter dance and all other major milestones, along with fashion-forward casual clothing for school and every day,” he said. “We additionally specialize in clothing for multiples, preemies and other difficult-to-find items and can also match kids throughout extended families for any occasion.”
“We offer some of the highest-end custom communion wear in the industry from Italian manufacturer Piccolo Bacio, adorable casual and dressy suits for babies from Mayoral, beautiful dresses from Ooh Lala Couture, and a full line of gorgeous sneakers from Vintage Havana — all at good price points and with accessories to match,” Wendy said. “Customers will find beautiful communion dress for anywhere from $200 to $3,000, so everyone’s budget can be met without ever skimping on quality.”
“We work with designers and manufacturers whom we’ve known for decades, some of whom custom-make items exclusively for our store,” Mike added. “Customers will find things at Small World that they won’t see anywhere else.”
“We also feature such popular brands as Mish Mish and Dori as well as a large selection of nice jeans, cotton sweaters and slacks for boys and an expanded tween department for girls with beautiful mix-and-match sweaters and skirts at great price points,” Wendy said.
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Dressing the generations
Among trends in kids’ clothes, “everything from the 1970s and 1980s has become popular again, including crushed velvet bell-bottom jeans and jeans with fringes,” Wendy said. “While tween girls were into embellished shirts with leggings a few years ago, more classic ‘adult’ looks involving separates like skirts with sweaters are really in now.”
“Last year was all about casual clothes, pajamas and loungewear, but today, kids want to get dressed up and go out,” Mike agreed.
“Some girls still want glitter, lamé and legging sets with cute appliqués, and we have it all,” Wendy said. “We have tens of thousands of SKUs (stock-keeping units, an industry term for distinct items for sale) and no other stores can compete with the breadth of our inventory, especially now with supply shortages. There’s a real ‘wow’ factor when people come here.”
Having all of that variety can come with its challenges, however, including the pressure of ensuring its turnover. “The trends/looks change quickly in this industry, so being able to anticipate how much of a particular style to bring in and when to phase it out determines how profitable you’ll be,” Mike said.
At the same time, “we’re always reinventing ourselves,” Wendy said. “During the heart of the pandemic, when other stores like ours were dropping like flies, we wanted to stay open, so Mike used his IT background to develop a video shopping model that enabled us to take customers on virtual tours online. Though we kept our doors locked for several months, we shipped all over the country and the world and were very accommodating about exchanging things our customers’ kids never got to wear and then grew out of during the pandemic, which few other stores did.
“People love that we’re always here and are so easy to work with,” Wendy said of their customers, who range from parents to aunts and grandmothers who want to spoil their kids, nieces/nephews or grandkids with an outfit. “We’re all about customer service and have established a close rapport with all of our customers, many of whom send us pictures of their kids in their outfits and love us to post them online. We know their kids’ sizes, put things aside for them, text them pictures and make it a very personal experience for each and every customer.”
Supported by a team of six employees whom they describe as “awesome,” Mike and Wendy enjoy serving generations of families. “We’re so excited to be back and love hearing customers tell us that we used to dress their kids and now their kids are having kids,” Mike said.
While Wendy takes the lead on merchandising and selling at the store and Mike largely handles advertising, computer work and store operations, “Wendy and I truly enjoy working side by side every day,” he said.
According to Wendy, “we love making people happy and it feels great to be part of our customers' lives and milestones and to help make their kids look so good. Customers love coming here — including their kids, who enjoy the toys, couch and TV in our playroom and never want to leave!”
“We’re excited to continue doing what we do,” Wendy said. “We love it and it shows.”
Small World Kids Boutique
Location: 420 Route 9 N., Marlboro
Owners: Mike and Wendy Sciavolino
Founded: 1989 in East Brunswick; 2015 in Marlboro
Instagram and Facebook: @smallworldkidsnj
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Small World Kids Boutique gets second life in Marlboro