Tatyana Sharoubim-Stewart was 18 years old and a junior at Rollins College in Winter Park when she inherited her late father’s Raleigh, North Carolina-based shoe salon and all its upscale inventory.
“It was 2005 and e-commerce was starting to happen, so I moved to Sarasota and put all the merchandise online,” she says. “There weren’t templates for websites then, so we had to custom-code our own.”
At the same time, Sharoubim-Stewart opened a small showroom by appointment on Fourth Street and Cocoanut Avenue in the not-yet-gentrified Rosemary District and named it T. Georgiano’s. She grew a following by throwing hostess parties, complete with beverages and snacks.
“This was a summer project and I was planning to go back to school,” she says. “Fifteen years later here we are.”
Spurred on by a growing customer base, in November 2007 she opened T. Georgiano’s in the new strip of upscale shops on First Street near Whole Foods. “My store was so high-end—exotic handbags and $800 shoes—it was like a shoe museum,” she says.
And then, in 2008, the economy crashed. Single and the shop’s only employee (she since has married and has two children, ages 5 and 2), Sharoubim-Stewart had to rebrand T. Georgiano’s with inventory at more wide-ranging price points, including leisurewear. “I did what I could,” she says. “I had to create a new identity for the store. I had to evolve, and I had to reinvest.”
Quitting wasn’t an option. “I hung on by the thinnest thread,” she says. “I love it and believe in it so much, I had to continue.”
What has been hardest as she’s temporarily closed her doors on First Street due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharoubim-Stewart says, is not being able to be with people in person. “Our customers are our friends, we hug our customers, we cry, we laugh,” she says. Keeping that connection while transferring to exclusively online shopping is a challenge, but because she utilized social media long before it became commonplace, that has served her well.
She is posting live fashion shows on her Facebook page with special appearances by her children and her dog and has started a Pushup for Resilience challenge in which she posts videos of herself doing 20 pushups a day. When we talked last week, it was Day 35. She also includes short inspirational blog posts in her weekly e-newsletter, which has 2,000 subscribers, along with links to clothing and accessories for purchase in a “life beyond sweatpants” section. And she posts product photos of herself and her family regularly for the 10,000 people who follow her on Instagram.
“I’m trying to motivate and inspire people,” she says. “They may be in isolation, not OK with being at home alone. I’m telling them, you’re allowed to have a bad day, you’re not alone. I’m using everything I have to offer as a human in my customer experience. They’re not just shopping for a product, they’re gaining a connection.”
Sharoubim-Stewart does home deliveries around downtown Sarasota and on Siesta Key, and hopes to offer private shopping appointments in May, in store or at home, “whatever people are comfortable with,” she says.
“I feel I’m being pushed to another level,” she says. “In the long run it will be awesome.”
And she offers one last thought: “Support local businesses,” she says. “We really need them.”