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At The Portsmouth Shop, Family Business Includes the Customers

Going on 33 years in business, this local gift shop has a wide selection of gifts and a loyal customer base that treats it like family.

(Photo Courtsy: Sarah Zlydaszek)
(Photo Courtsy: Sarah Zlydaszek)
When the folks who run The Portsmouth Shop on East Main Road say they love their customers like family, they mean it.

When Sarah Zlydaszek, daughter of JoAnn Ryder, had a baby, her mother decorated the outside of their shop with blue ribbons because the whole town was stopping by to find out if she had a boy or a girl.

"We love our customers," Ryder said. 

The doors opened on April Fool's Day in 1981 and nearly 33 years later, The Portsmouth Shop is the go-to place for last minute gifts, Vera Bradley bags, Pandora or Alex and Ani jewelry, clothes, local treats and more. 

It's a local institution that has held its place in the local business landscape with simple principles: give good service, be honest, no pressure.

They don't advertise. Instead, they donate to local charities, give big for the Portsmouth High School post prom, sponsoring booths at local fairs, supporting schools, churches and more.

"Rather than spend $1,000 on a ad in the newspaper, we'd rather be able to do this," Zlydaszek said. Investing in the community has paid dividends in the form of strong word-of-mouth from loyal customers. And it reflects the family's determination to do good with their shop, not just pay the bills.

Zlydaszek was just a kindergartener when the store first opened. For customers who treat shopping at The Portsmouth Shop as an annual holiday tradition, or as the definitive local shop to get a gift year-round, they've watched Zlydaszek grow up at the same time she and her mother have watched the town change around them. 

They've also had to adapt in a changing marketplace, as big box retailers get even bigger and more and more people shop online. We're in an era when people aren't used to paying full price and shopkeepers often watch people walk in to touch and feel things they know they'll be buying from Amazon later that day. 

They've adapted in some ways, such as expanding their product line to include more gifts in recent years. But the tried and true formula of caring about customers, giving good service and participating as good stewards of the community is the key reason this store continues to thrive.

"Nothing is ever easy," Zlydaszek said. "The thing I respect most about my mom is that she has worked hard and just to make people happy. At the end of the day, that's a good thing."

If you walk into The Portsmouth Shop for a Pandora bead, they won't push the priciest selections. 

"It's not a high pressure situation here," Ryder said. "We're not going to shoot for that $150 bead. You can buy the $25 bead and get the same service."

Customers say the family at The Portsmouth Shop really is family to them.

"Sarah is amazing!" said Colleen LeComte. "She has helped me from ordering centerpieces for my wedding to toys and clothes for our baby. She never forgets a face and always has a kind word. We couldn't ask for better shop proprietors in this town."

For the guys in town who struggle to find the right gift for a special someone, The Portsmouth Shop is a lifesaver.

"They always have what I need for last minute gift ideas and the staff is very helpful and super friendly," said Thomas D. Horrocks Jr.

It's a store where you can find exactly what you're looking for or find something you never knew you wanted. Browsing the rows and shelves offers inspiration for gift ideas and with advice and support from Zlydaszek and her mom, even the most flabbergasted shopper can stroll out with a smile, a shopping bag and confidence.

People in Portsmouth know they can probably find the same item on the Internet, or they can wait for some outrageous deal at a huge chain store and save a few bucks. But they keep coming back to The Portsmouth Shop, year after year, season after season because here, it's family.

"And that's the part of being a small business owner that's so great," Zlydaszek said.

The Portsmouth Shop is open Mon-Fri from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Saturday, hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You can reach the store at 401-683-2184. It is located at 2511 E. Main Road in Portsmouth. You can also follow the store on Facebook.

Know of another area business that deserves a writeup? Send Editor Mark Schieldrop a note at mark.schieldrop@patch.com.

Claire Arrico February 14, 2014 at 09:07 PM
What a great article. I remember when Sarah would come in after school at times I was shopping there. I would go and shop for the perfect piece of clothing. I still have this beautiful necklace I bought from there many years ago.
Susan Fredette February 15, 2014 at 05:53 PM
I couldn't say enough good things about the two of them! Have been shopping there for years! They always have something new!

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