By Katie Fenton
When Bruna Tembelis had to cancel the opening of her shop, AquaBrasil Boutique, due to the coronavirus pandemic, she had to find new ways to succeed as a new local business.
“I was ready to open in April and then the pandemic started, so I wasn’t even able to open my doors,” Tembelis said. “So, what I had to do was start with Facebook Live and totally get out of my comfort zone. It’s not something I was comfortable with in the beginning, but I did what I had to do.”
While the business, which Tembelis describes as a lifestyle boutique and gift shop, has found success through virtual platforms, its Glen Head storefront finally opened to customers in June. There and online, customers can buy jewelry, women and children’s fashion, accessories and more.
Working with both American and international brands, Tembelis said that many of the store’s products stand out for being handmade, biodegradable and ethically made. While the boutique’s specialty is clothing and jewelry, its inventory is diverse, featuring other products like candles and natural soaps as well.
The boutique was recently featured as the North Shore Biz Network’s “Business of the Month” for July. Deborah Orgel-Gordon, the president of the North Shore Biz Network, said that the shop is a valuable addition to Glen Head’s local business scene.
“I don’t think we have a place in the community to sell products for children, so that’s really exciting,” Orgel-Gordon said. “I have lots of little grand-nieces and nephews, so I’m always looking for children’s products.
Orgel-Gordon added that AquaBrasil has women’s products as well. She said there are not a lot of local women’s clothing stores in the area, something which she said the community has been missing.
Tembelis said the boutique’s name was inspired by her Brazilian roots and her favorite crystal, aquamarine. She said her commitment to opening her own business started with making and selling semiprecious Brazilian jewelry, and that original passion is still important to her. In addition to products from various brands, she sells her own line of semiprecious crystal bracelets, with each crystal representing a different healing property.
Working both in the medical field and in real estate after moving from Brazil to Queens 15 years ago, Tembelis said her passion for making jewelry grew as a side business over the years. Now, living in Glen Cove with her husband and two daughters, she has been able to grow that side of the business even further.
“I always loved the North Shore, and I like to be close to the water,” Tembelis said. “I love this area, and the community has welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been here seven days of the week — I live here, basically. It doesn’t feel like a job, though. This is what I love.”
When the building in Glen Head that she now operates in became available in January, Tembelis said she quickly worked to open her store there. Although her plans were changed by the pandemic, Orgel-Gordon said having to immediately prioritize the store’s online presence may benefit AquaBrasil down the line.
“Most of these businesses that started this year had to create websites and learn to sell their products online,” Orgel-Gordon said. “Many small businesses have to go the route of having a storefront and an online store on their website to keep them afloat, because that’s the only way to compete with people who normally order online.”
“So, in a positive way,” Orgel-Gordon added, “I think that even though it was probably really hectic and scary and horrible, it pushed her and any other business in our community that hasn’t had an online site to set all of that up right away.”
Although the pandemic is still keeping new businesses like AquaBrasil Boutique from getting the traditional publicity of events like ribbon-cuttings, success is still achievable, said Steve Warshaw, president of the Gold Coast Business Association. He said people are apprehensive about going into new places, something which he said business owners need to consider. It will be a while before a normal level of comfort among consumers sets in, he said, so being online could be crucial in new businesses’ survival.
“As far as places like AquaBrasil, they just have to maintain an online presence and get their name out there and advertise,” Warshaw said. “It’s hard for any new business now, but once people know who you are in the neighborhood, then you have a following.”