New post-Sears path ahead for Neuman

IMG_4671 (2)After 17 years of the hustle and bustle of running her own business, Crystal Neuman admits that it’s weird to sit outside, on a sunny patio during what would have been her normal business hours. Crystal is visiting with her husband Jeff, a funeral director at Baragar Funeral Home and they’re enjoying a bit of time on the back patio with their dog, and former store mascot, Emmerson.

Crystal and Jeff have been doing lots of brainstorming lately. It’s why they decided to close their beloved store and it’s why they’re looking forward to a new direction for their family – once Crystal has a bit of well-deserved time off.

For 17 years Crystal lived the small business owner lifestyle with Jeff’s support. She opened her store in October of 2000 and a month later she let her husband know their first baby was on the way.

The long days of engaging customers, building relationships, worrying about money, trying to stay ahead of recessions, rural Ontario challenges and raising a family at the same time became normal for Crystal. She says she really loved what she did each day because of her customers.

Crystal gets a bit choked-up talking about these customers, their stories, their kind words, the jokes and the steady stream of shoppers and visitors to the store. The constant love she felt from the community made it worthwhile to work all day, squeeze in a bit of family time and then hit the paperwork at 10pm over and over and over again.

There were tough days and lean times and the challenge of figuring out which questions to ask before sending out Jeff on a delivery. They exchange a playful glance as Jeff recalls a delivery that involved 72 steep stairs down to a cottage.

And both Neumans say the cottagers they met were amazing.

“These were the people who really noticed the customer service,” Crystal says. “They were so loyal and they would let us help them with purchases for their homes as well as their cottages.”

IMG_4692 (2)Jeff and Crystal both believe in providing the best in customer service in everything they do.

“We also have to grocery shop in this community,” Jeff says. “From day one, Crystal decided the only way to do this was to provide outstanding customer service.”

And this decision got Crystal through 17 years in a tough retail sector in a financially challenged town where every sale and every customer mattered. From the outpouring of love and support she has received since announcing that the shop was closing, she feels like she actually made a difference.

There have been cards, flowers, visits, Facebook love, phone calls and so many hugs.

Crystal says a customer joked that it was like being at her own funeral.

“When do you ever get to hear these kind things from so many people?” Crystal says. “And it wasn’t just for me, Emmerson got goodbye gifts and seniors brought him treats.”

Crystal says she has never felt so much love for her community and she really wants everyone to know how much their kind words and deeds have mattered to her in the past weeks. Support has also come from other business owners. There were job offers and so many beautiful words of encouragement. Crystal says everyone just wanted to know that she would be all right.

And she will be. The store closed because it was a good time to close. The business was still thriving and Crystal still loved what she was doing but with an uncertain road ahead in the retail sector, it seemed like the right time to move in a new direction and she will, once she’s had a break and enjoyed a bit of summer.

In the weeks ahead though, Crystal will be using her customer service skills once again as she joins her husband Jeff and Tim Baragar as an assistant at Baragar Funeral Home. Crystal will be supporting families, helping with services, events and using all her people skills as she further develops the Baragar after care program.

“In the store Jeff learned from me and now it’s time for me to learn from Jeff about this business,” Crystal says.

Crystal’s arrival at Baragar Funeral Home will be formally announced at a later date but for now, anyone missing their visits with Crystal and Emmerson should keep an eye out when they go past Baragar’s.

“She’s going to be here, doing what she does best,” says Jeff. “We’re really looking forward to this.”