Imagine Celebrates 20th Anniversary With a Little Help From Their Friends

Imagine Celebrates 20th Anniversary With a Little Help From Their Friends   Wish them ‘Happy Anniversary’ and save 20 percent through Thanksgiving! Imagine, the fine arts and fine craft shop in Skaneateles, owes its success to the loyalty of its artists, its staff—and, most of all, its customers—says owner Joe Panzarella, as he prepares to celebrate 20 years in business.   The shop, named for the John Lennon song that played at his wedding, opened its doors at 8 E. Genesee St., site of the former Georgia’s Custom Jewelry, on Nov. 13, 1992.   Over the years, Imagine has operated in two locations, represented almost 900 artists, and become a favorite shopping venue for tourists and townspeople alike.  

Birthing a Gallery By the summer of 1992, when the owners of Georgia’s decided to sell their shop, Panzarella had been traveling the country doing craft shows for 23 years. Although he enjoyed the life, he missed the time spent away from his family.     “I wasn’t actively seeking a change, but when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it,” he says.   He took over the lease Sept. 1, operated the shop for three weeks with Georgia’s old inventory, and then closed for renovations to turn it into a craft gallery. When Imagine reopened under its new name Nov. 13, it sold sterling silver jewelry (the only shop in the village to do so, at the time), art glass and woodwork, along with fine jewelry.   In its earliest days, Imagine represented fewer than 50 artists, many of whom Panzarella had known from the craft show circuit. About half of those artists continue to show and sell their work today through Imagine, joining more than 100 other local and national artists.   Panzarella’s two daughters, Sarah—now gallery director—and Carolyn, have worked on and off at the shop since its earliest days.   Another mainstay behind the counter is shop manager Denise Wiedor, a Skaneateles resident who has been with the shop 15 years; her daughter, Alyssa, now works there too.   Imagine has also been a family affair for the Fosters: Julia became the first member of her family to work there, while in high school and college; she was followed by her mother, Lynda, now a full-time employee, and her sister Emma.   “I’ve been gifted in the number of people who have stayed with us,” says Panzarella. “The staff have added tremendously to our success and become part of the Imagine family.   “Many of our customers have been with us from the early days, too,” he says. “People tell us that when they’re in town, this is the first place they visit.”   “We have clientele from as far away as North Carolina and California,” says Sarah Panzarella. “They’re not here as often, but they’re just as loyal as customers living on State Street.”  

Disaster Strikes   On Jan. 17, 2000, pipes burst in the apartment above the shop, causing Imagine to flood.   The jewelry survived, but much of the woodwork froze.   “We had to tear up the inside of the store and the flooring. We were closed for two months,” says Joe. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, professionally.”   When the shop reopened, it had a new look, along with a drop ceiling, recessed lights and central air-conditioning.  

Growth and Expansion   In July 2009, after Joe learned that he would have to temporarily relocate as Imagine’s building underwent restoration, Imagine That…  opened at 38 E. Genesee St., headed by Sarah and her husband, Jeremy Randall. The stand-alone gallery allowed for added space to expand the collection, and host monthly exhibitions and First Friday artists’ receptions.   “After 15 years of working for my dad, I was no longer just an employee—Imagine That…  gave me the opportunity to learn the back-room operations, have ownership and execute on my vision,” says Sarah. “At that point, I wasn’t thinking of Imagine as a long-term career. Branching out on my own gave me the leadership skills I needed to see the possibilities.”   Imagine joined forces with Imagine That… in April 2010. The two have been together ever since, selling jewelry, art glass, woodwork, paintings, prints, photography, textiles and ceramics. Their joint vision works well, the Panzarellas say, with Joe doing more of the paperwork and Sarah handling more of the contact with artists.     “Imagine has evolved over the years, and we’re in a much larger space now (1,350 square feet of display space versus 550),” says Sarah. “But there’s also great continuity. It’s nice to have continuing relationships with artists who have been here from the start.”  

 Supporting the Community Joe, who believes it is important to give back to the community that has been so supportive of him, has been involved with the Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce since 1993 and never misses an opportunity to support local fund-raisers. Now serving his final year on the Chamber’s board of directors, he also is longtime chair of the Chamber’s Tourism Committee (formerly the Merchants Association) and Dickens Christmas Committee.   “Joe Panzarella and Imagine have been an integral part of the Skaneateles business community since they opened their doors 20 years ago,” says Susan Dove, executive director of the Chamber. “Joe almost immediately took part in the Merchants Association and has served on the Chamber board since 2000.   “Sarah also has become involved with the community, and was a major force behind the development of Skaneateles’ First Friday,” she notes. “The Panzarellas’ hard work and dedication to our community are second to none.” With Joe turning 65 earlier this year, he and Sarah are now transitioning roles, so that Sarah becomes the eventual owner, and Joe her assistant.   “Twenty years ago, my father had a wonderful vision, which has proven its longevity,” says Sarah. “I plan to continue that, and to bring in new and exciting work.”  

Anniversary Special To mark its 20th anniversary, Imagine will host a Business After Hours for members of the Skaneateles Chamber Nov. 15.   In addition, the shop will offer a 20 percent discount on all items through Thanksgiving to customers who say, “Happy Anniversary!”   “I would like to thank all our customers, who have supported us and helped us grow,” says Joe. “They’re a part of our extended Imagine family.”