By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
NORTH TONAWANDA — Last year was a tough one for Susan Rechin-Fassl, the longtime owner of Designer Sportswear on Webster Street.
In early 2011, she went to a Niagara Falls hospital with lingering flu-like symptoms and ended up leaving 16 days later, after discovering her appendix had burst. That closed up her business for weeks.
Then, on July 4 weekend she was bitten by a brown recluse spider while shuffling around under her pool deck. That shut the store down for another week in the midst of primetime summer traffic in downtown North Tonawanda.
By September of last year, a facade project that was supposed to take a month or less ended up lasting into December, with a boarded up entrance way covered in plywood all the while, stifling patronage. And while Rechin-Fassl was still able to meet her corporate demands embroidering clothing, she said her business was closed to foot traffic during most of the holiday season — a time that makes or breaks many small shops like hers.
”2011 was just horrible,” she said. “I’ve been trying to come back since. I maxed out two credit cards to keep the place going. It’s difficult because our economy is not that healthy either”
But on Tuesday, while things have not quite come full circle, Rechin-Fassl said they’re looking up.
In August, Designer Sportswear reached a landmark 30th anniversary, the majority of which has been fixed on the rejuvenated Webster Street, while she relaunched her business concept, adding new product lines and an updated look.
She’s changed her business plan to tap into the boutique-style feel that has slowly been creeping into the downtown corridor and revamped her efforts to reach out to the increasingly out-of-city presence that has come along with it.
And the facade work that has finally been completed has given her enterprise a updated appeal, with modern signage, more floor space for retail and, perhaps, a new lease on life.
”It took a while for everything to come back together, but it’s finally coming around,” Rechin-Fassl said.
Joyce Santiago, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas, was on hand for a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, along with politicians and representatives of the Lumber City Development Corp.
Santiago said having grown up in North Tonawanda, she seen Designer Sportswear reinvent itself under the direction of its owner in order to stay with the changing clientele more focused on niche shops that continue to spring up downtown.
”Sue’s business is very corporate driven,” Santiago said. “She really didn’t depend on those walking down the street, but now she’s trying to reach out to that.”
And with the upcoming holiday shopping season officially underway this week on Black Friday, Rechin-Fassl plans build on the trying times with a positive outlook, one she said she couldn’t have achieved without a little help.
”Without their support, I don’t know if I could have done it,” she said.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.