I established Gifted in 2006 to help heal and restore my life, through work and creativity, after the death of my husband, Joseph Gullickson, on Sept. 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center, and the tragic loss of my father Jose A. Perez, in the crash of American Airlines flight #587 in Rockaway, Queens, Monday, Nov. 12, 2001, two days after my husband's funeral service, Saturday, November 10, 2001.
My late husband Joe was a Lieutenant in the NYC Fire Dept. He was my best friend, and a loving father to our two little girls. Joe was a family man through and through. My father was a hardworking family man that always held two jobs. He was kind and generous, with a warm, ready smile. An avid reader, he instilled a love of books and reading in me.
Opening the gift shop was the fulfillment of a small life long dream; it was something that I had always wanted to do. The endeavor helped me enormously, as it was a productive and engaging use of my time and interests, and served as a release for the tangled fears, stresses and anxieties of unexpectedly becoming a widowed mother of two. The girls were only ages one and three when their father died on Sept. 11. Creating Gifted was a full hearted effort that took months, weeks, days, and endless hours leading up to opening day. My family and Joe’s, helped to open boxes and stock shelves to wee hours of the morning before the Grand Opening, and it was a success! When the shop was complete, it was sweet, pretty, and chuck full of lovely gift merchandise. It was reminiscent of some of the sweet little neighborhood shops that I grew up with in Park Slope, Brooklyn where I was raised. I saw potential in what I had created with the help of my family and Joe's firefighter friends that volunteered to help when construction of the store started. I prayed that the shop would flourish, and thankfully, it did. The community responded with loyal and enthusiastic support.
In the early days of Gifted, my girls did their homework and had after school snacks in the rear of the shop, which I outfitted with cozy bean bags, lap desks and a small TV for them. There, we created sweet memories of time spent together: it was a time that helped us work, grow and heal together in our post 9/11 life.
While the creative and social aspects of running a business helped to fill my days productively, the most rewarding part to me, was the opportunity to teach my young daughters, by example, to dream, work, achieve and persevere in the face of adversity. With our lives changed forever, and challenges yet unknown, it was important to me that the girls be clear-eyed about the fact that life is not always fair, but it does always offer hope and opportunity even when we do not see it. I wanted them to know that there can, and should, be purpose, happiness, and fulfillment in life, even when bad, inexplicable, painful things happen.
Through a string of coincidences, or perhaps by divine plan, in 2014 I was afforded the opportunity to move Gifted from its original location, to a small brick and stone cottage that my late husband Joe admired for years as he was growing up on Staten Island. The little cottage, locally known as the “Roy Cutter Cottage,” seemed to stand still in time. Mr. Cutter operated an insurance company for decades in the structure that was built by his father and uncle in the late 1920's. When Joe and I were dating, he always pointed out the little cottage to me when we drove past it. One day in August 2014, I got a call from my late friend and realtor, Lee Labita Stanzione, and she gave me the news that the cottage was available for rent for the first time, as a result of Mr. Cutter's retirement from the business. I rushed over to meet her there, and was filled with awe and happiness to be inside the sweet little cottage that had been a secret desire of Joe's heart. The dark paneling, heavy pile, mustard-colored carpeting and large fluorescent lights did not detract from the inherent charm of the cottage. The sun, streaming through the old sky window, felt warm on my face, and for a moment I was filled with a sense of Joe's presence. Despite the dark chapter that was the year 2001, there I was, years later, the sun's warm light on my face, blessed with the opportunity to forge new goals, hopes and dreams, in the little cottage that Joe loved.
With extraordinary support and cooperation from Mr. Cutter's daughter, Carol, and her husband Michael, who managed the property, Gifted now has a permanent home in the little cottage that has meant so much to me. I work tirelessly to ensure that the cottage shop grows, blossoms, and continues to inspire, captivate and enchant customers in the community that I love.
Lemons in hand, whenever life serves them, I've learned to make the best of what is, change what I can, and strive to take steps forward in the things that I do. Gifted is the fulfillment of a small dream, and a destination in the unexpected journey of my life after 9/11 and AA Flight #587. My cheery little shop makes customers happy and is an antidote to big box shopping. Despite the struggles and challenges of small business ownership, Gifted remains a part of the community, to offer enjoyable, personal, convenient, local shopping in the neighborhood. With lessons learned along the way, I keep moving forward. I have no regrets. Familiar upbeat music playing in the background, and the fragrance of softly scented candles in the air, create an enjoyable setting, as we welcome and assist customers with their selections. Every gift purchase is prettily gift wrapped to give it a cheerful, lovely presentation. Looking back, many days were made a little brighter for me and my little girls in 2001 and beyond, when we received thoughtful gifts in the mail, and at our door step, from complete strangers that simply wanted to show kindness towards us. The girls received teddy bears, toys, books and blankets to comfort them. It made me happy to see them smile, and it gave me hope in humanity despite the darkness of that time. I will never forget the palpable love and unity in New York City, the care and support from the FDNY, and the notes and letters from around the country and abroad, in the aftermath of 9/11 and AA #587. The small, thoughtful gestures touched me deeply and gave me hope...
Thank you for supporting this small business and the family behind it.
With love and gratitude,