Give to Live: Song for Donate Life Month Honors Local Hero's Legacy

Joe Acocella, the late town clerk of Harrison, N.Y., who passed away in 2011 at the age of 30 while awaiting a kidney transplant, was an inspiration to everyone he encountered. A double amputee, he never let the obstacles he faced affect his accomplishments, which included becoming the youngest member elected to the Harrison Board of Education and the youngest town clerk in New York state history.

Since his tireless work spanned many initiatives at a breakneck speed, it's a Herculean task to encapsulate Joey's short life. Many journalists and friends have done so in prose, and I was asked by the Acocella family to do so in song (listen to the song here), as a way to both honor his legacy and raise awareness for Donate Life, the organ donor registry initiative (and one of his near-and-dear causes). Joey was the recipient of a kidney transplant at age 18; ten years later, he found himself in need of another transplant to sustain his life.

Your future hangs on a wish You're a name on a list. You deserve another chance, You deserve more than this ...

THE WRITING PROCESS Already a registered organ donor, I was honored to also donate a song, which will be unveiled in a video about Joey's life at the Give to Live Fundraiser on April 26, scheduled to be an annual event to raise money for Donate Life and Joey's other beloved charities, such as animal rescue shelters and support for our troops.

For the song, I collaborated with NYC singer-songwriter Brenda Rudzinski. Together, we delved into the stories of those seeking a second chance at life from those who donate living organs and those who register to give organ, eye and tissue donations when they pass on. The research moved us deeply. We decided to focus on the importance of spreading the word, whether sharing it publicly or sharing with friends and family in a quiet way. Each helps the cause. You can listen to the song here.

Brenda also lent her beautiful voice to the tune, which was recorded by producer Adam Harley at Gnome Music Studio in Larchmont, N.Y. The gorgeous guitar parts were played by Justin Gild. My husband, Thomas Fisher, also contributed to the song's arrangement. This truly was a group effort.

The song was premiered on "Harrison Live" on WVOX on April 19, by Dennis Nardone and his co-host Tonny Guido. We are thrilled to honor Joey's incredible life as well as spread the word about a need that affects so many throughout the world. We hope that the song moves enough people to get those registry numbers up! Kleenex in hand, we look forward to seeing the song paired with the video at the fundraiser.

For more info on organ donation, visit the Donate Life site. To donate to Joey's charities, email

Hear the song and read the lyrics on SoundCloud.

And feel free to comment below. Joey was all about making the most noise, so let's help make some noise and carry on his good work!

Spread the word,


Shout it from the rooftops Make the message heard If you believe in second chances, Share life with the world. It only takes one person at a time who wants to give. Help spread the word and Give to Live ...

Comparatively Speaking: The Positioning Tell-All

When it comes to marketing, how you position your company in relation to your competitors can speak volumes about your business, and also set its course for success. Conversely, if not kept in check, how you speak about your business can deter prospects from becoming repeat customers.

That’s why in addition to marketing materials, many companies create specific language (sometimes an entire vocabulary) for staff to use when speaking directly with customers.

So how best to position your business against your competitors? Let’s explore a scenario.

The Lowest Common Denominator A customer walks into your retail shop — a chocolate shop, for example — and while the customer does enjoy the products, she raises a health concern over the way the chocolate is handled. One way you wouldn’t expect the shop owner to defend his shop is by saying,

Misguided, yes, but across many industries, from manufacturing to retail food to professional services, I’ve heard this rationalization used often. I understand the desired effect is to pump up the company as compared to a competitor’s poor practices, but this reply does little to instill confidence in the well-meaning customer’s eyes, and it certainly doesn’t build loyalty. Such statements are meant to deflect attention from the matter at hand, leaving the customer feeling empty, invalidated and, most importantly, perhaps unwilling to grant the business owner with repeat business. It’s essentially a distraction technique, and it’s not a good one.

Compare Up, Not Down Just as playing a sport with players who are better than you makes you work harder to play up to their level, business owners should make realistic comparisons that push them to get better and better at what they do.

Take time to think which companies out there have a mission statement that’s similar to yours or operations that serve as a model for your company; those are the businesses you should be emulating in your daily practices, in the tone of your marketing messages and in your interactions with customers. Telling people your establishment is “the neighborhood’s answer to Starbucks” is a respectable and easily understood comparison.

Decide on Your Differentiator So what can you, as a small-business owner, say to position your business, and how can you say it in ways that build up your business while remaining respectful of other establishments? You need to determine your differentiator — what sets you apart from the competition. Some common considerations:

1. Emphasize Your Value

If price is what sets you apart, then emphasize your affordability when speaking of your competition. And remember, emphasizing price doesn’t mean that your product or service lacks quality; perhaps you provide most of the value at a fraction of the cost. In downtown Harrison, Paul’s Cleaners, 368 Halstead Ave., is able to offer 30 percent less than the competition for quality service, and that is how they position themselves.

2. Emphasize Your Service

Perhaps you provide such exceptional service that the difference in price is well worth it. Say you’re looking to display a special photo or piece of art. If you go to your local picture framer — for example, Igor at Masterpiece Framing, 243 Halstead Ave. — you’ll pay more than if you were to pick up a cheap frame at Target, but the value is far greater. What you’re getting in return for your investment is the skill of a craftsman who takes great pride in finding your perfect look, as well as someone who stands behind every frame he sells, so you know your special photo will remain a treasure for all to see.

3. Emphasize Your Quality

Is there an aspect of your business besides price or service that sets you apart from the competition? Perhaps it’s a restaurant’s unique ambiance. Or it could be that your food is gluten-free, like 97 Lake in West Harrison, which also emphasizes that none of its dishes are frozen; every item on the menu is fresh and cooked to order. For many people, that will be the selling point that gets them in the door.

Talk Back Once you’ve determined what your value proposition is, you’ll be able to say it with confidence when speaking to customers about how you hold up against your competition. Give it a try, and e-mail me if you need help crafting yours!

Now get to it,



NOTE: This column was originally published in The Harrison Report. It is being reprinted here with additional photos.

‘My Guy’ Philosophy, Part II: When to Say Goodbye

Last month, I detailed the concept of the “my guy” seal of approval when it comes to services, and why we go with our guys: price, loyalty, and comfort being among the top factors.
But as loyal as we are, there may come a time when we have to find new guys.

“No, I could never leave my guy,” you might say. But surely there are things that could make us change our mind about one of our guys and make the switch to someone new?

Below are three times when I think you might consider it:

1. Your Guy Goes Out of Business This one’s a no-brainer. Time to ask your friends and family for referrals to their guys.

2. It’s All in the Family Speaking of families, another reason you might leave your guy is if someone in your family goes into the same business. I say “might” because I know some of you would never leave your guys, not even for someone who shares your DNA. But don’t be surprised when Uncle Lou announces he’s bought the local auto repair shop. I’m just sayin’.

3. A Guy of the Times As technology changes, so should any business. Those that choose to stick with traditional operations, marketing, or production may find themselves gradually losing customers. This is because so many consumers today (much to my chagrin) are focused on quantity rather than quality, or they gravitate toward the latest and greatest.

Even exterminators are up on the latest technology: An ad on the subway touts a bug-identifying iPhone app! More and more, business owners are realizing that to gain that competitive edge, they need today’s technology working for their business.

Talk Back Are you a business owner utilizing an app to connect with your customers? Let me know by leaving a comment!

My Guy Reader Write-In Thanks to Purchase resident Lenore Castaldo for sharing the story of her guy:

My Guy: Rocco DiPietro

Industry: Fine finish carpentry and all-around floor-and-tile guy, 914-646-0889.

Why My Guy: “I’ve known Rocco for about three years. I got him through Danny Rosamilla of Rosamilla Landscape, Inc. Silverlake is a tightly knit community, so getting a referral is never a problem. Woodworking is Rocco’s main business, but he can also renovate a kitchen and bath with no problem. He is punctual, fair-priced, neat and trustworthy – qualities that are becoming increasingly difficult to find.”

A My Guy Tweet-In A Twitter friend who runs a primo event-planning business in New York City read last month’s column and wrote me (in 140 characters) about his air-conditioning guy. I’ll let his tweet tell you:

“I have a party AC guy. Found by ref, & met him on the street w/$5.5k CASH 2 days b4 event. I ONLY use him! He’s loyal 2 me 2.”

Tell Me About Your Guy Got a guy here in Harrison you’d like to tout? Email or send me a direct message on Twitter (@Saidandsung) with your story and I’ll spotlight your guy in an upcoming column.

A Stylish Contribution to Autism Speaks We all know how hard it is to get a haircut on a Monday; now you can do get a haircut while giving to a great cause!

On Monday, April 18, Hair Creations, 245 Halstead Ave., presents Accent Beauty for Autism, a benefit hosted by Manager Anthony Rende beginning at 10 a.m.

The Hair Creations staff will offer women’s haircuts for a minimum donation of $50, and $30 for men. Eyebrow shaping is available for a donation of $40, and a blue extension can be done for a donation of $10. All money will be collected at the time of the service in cash and check only, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the group Autism Speaks. Call 914-835-1350.

NOTE: This article was originally published in The Harrison Report. It is being reprinted here with additional photos and expired event notices removed.

Look forward to hearing about your guy!


Shop Talk: ‘My Guy’ Psychology, Part I

We've All Got Our Guys ...

Oftentimes, when we are in need of a service — and it’s most often when we’re in a bind — we hear a reassuring and all-too-calm friend say, “Don’t worry. Go to my guy; tell him I sent you.”

We’ve all heard this variation on the “I know a guy” seal of approval. It should be noted that when we qualify the word by putting “my” in front of it, it makes the connection more personal: “I’ve got my guy.”

(Please be aware that though I use the word “guy” throughout, it refers to both males and females.)

From mechanics and other repair/service personnel like plumbers, electricians and exterminators to hairdressers/barbers and dry cleaners to even restaurants and physicians, we’ve all got our guys.

Since moving to Harrison, most of my guys that I currently turn to for services were found by word of mouth. Somebody told me about her guy for shoe repair, someone else recommended her guy for hair straightening, another raved about her guy who is an internist, another gave me the location of her guy for an eyebrow threader and one of those prior someones also told me about her guy for a physical therapist.

Of course, it isn’t always a match made in heaven — there’s a special synergy that needs to occur between customer and service provider — but I’d take a referral over a blind search any day.

Just why is it that we stick with our guys for so long? I have my theories:

1. The Price is Right This is quite possibly the biggest reason, especially if we got with our guy early, because that means we were grandfathered in at a great price. My guy for renters’ insurance is outstanding, but I first got to know my guy nearly 10 years ago, so I have an incredible rate that anyone getting to know my guy today probably won’t receive.

My husband has a guy who fixes his computer, and the No. 1 reason he always goes with his guy is because he’s highly affordable. Again, who knows if that’s the case for his guy’s other clients? And there’s the caveat: When referring your guy to someone for whom price is the deciding factor, try to leave that portion of the conversation, and let your friend and your guy figure that out.

2. Loyalty Face it, we are all rather protective of our guys; we will defend them to the end. They’ve seen us through so much. And from time to time, our guys may let us down — not delivering when they said they would; not doing a thorough job, requiring additional time or expense. But chances are, we will still recommend our guys because they will make good on their mistakes, sometimes in the form of freebies, and it’s hard finding someone you can trust. Besides, there’s something so satisfying about being able to say that you’ve been going to the same guy for years.

3. We’re Comfortable I moved out of the city three years ago, but I still make the trip to Manhattan every time I need to go to the dentist. Why? Because I like my guy (actually, my dentist is a she). So something like an hour commute isn’t enough to make me want to take the time to search through the database to find a new dentist in my network — one I may not end up liking.

It’s like dating. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay with the same guy and suffer the commute, than to find someone new. Besides, I think the fact that I continue to come in “all the way from Westchester” has made my guy appreciate me more, and it shows.

Next Month: ‘My Guy’ Psychology, Part II Yes, it takes a lot to change our minds and go with new guys. So what kinds of things could make us change our mind about our guy and make the switch to someone new? Find out in Part II of the ‘”My Guy” series next month.

Tell Me about Your Guy Got a guy here in Harrison that you’d like to tout? E-mail me at with your story and I’ll print it in an upcoming column.


Opening This Weekend Congrats to Masroor “James” Rajpar and Khalid Channa, co-owners of Go Natural Organic Health Food & Juice Bar, 240 Harrison Ave. (near T&T Luncheonette), on the opening of the downtown Harrison store.

This is the third store of its kind for Rajpar and Channa, who have two other locations in New Jersey (one for 22 years and counting; the other is opening simultaneously with the Harrison store). In choosing Harrison, Rajpar said it was a no-brainer.

“I didn’t see a health food store in the area; people in Harrison have to go all the way to Mrs. Green’s in Larchmont or go to Port Chester for such a store,” he said. “I believe there are lots of people here who want to engage in healthy living, and I am happy to help with that.”

He’ll even introduce you to a nutritionist. Every Saturday, the store will feature a nutritionist on hand for free consultations.

Go Natural is currently open and is offering huge discounts on vitamin sales — available for the remainder of the month at 40 percent off. The grocery section features most items at 40 percent off, and cereals are buy one get one free. The store also features a selection of gluten-free items, energy drinks, protein bars, weight gainers and protein supplements, smoothies and organic coffee. The juice bar will open in March.

Store hours are Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Accepts credit cards. Call 914-630-4590.


Shop Talk Tip: Open-Door Policy Last Friday, when the weather briefly hovered around 60 degrees, I was delighted to see several shops with open doors while walking through downtown. I found myself more likely to visit those shops; it was as though the owner was saying, “Come on in — we are happy to see you.” Stores like Big Top even placed merchandise outside, which I found myself looking over, even though I wasn’t in the market for anything in particular. There’s just something so welcoming about open doors and sidewalk sales. So when the weather permits, go ahead and let prospective customers know you want them to stop in!

Carla Rose Fisher is a freelance writer for web and print. Visit her website at

NOTE: This article was originally published in The Harrison Report. It is being reprinted here with additional photos.

What Customers Want: See the Need, Then Fill It

Business is often as unpredictable as the weather, so when life hands you snowflakes, make the most of them, just like the Harrison Dollar Plus Store did in my town on this snow day (see the sign below).

Knowing another winter storm was on its way, the owner empathized with his customer base and ordered winter accessories like shovels and de-icers and windshield-washer fluid. When it arrived, he grabbed a marker and some poster board and quickly made a sign urging people to be prepared, and reassuring them that the store was their one-stop shop for snow-ready items they may need. The result? These indispensable items sold like hot cakes (something else you could certainly use on a cold day). Paying attention leads to getting paid.

PRIORITY ONE: YOUR CUSTOMERS Sure, the sign he made leaves a lot to be desired in terms of design, but if you're left out in the cold with no ice scraper or shovel, I would guess that aesthetics are the least of your concerns. What matters most is simple supply and demand. By determining your customers' needs, you are providing them with great service — which is what they want.

You notice how rainy days are banner days for those selling umbrellas on the streets of Manhattan? It's because those sellers also paid attention to the weather, enough to know when to kick up their inventory.

For more on how to take cues from the world outside your storefront, read my post on Proximity Marketing.

FOR WESTCHESTERITES The Harrison Dollar Plus Store features some items priced more than a dollar (hence the title), and if they don't stock something you're looking for, just ask and they will do their best to get it. Talk about great customer service. Call 914-630-4777.

Stay warm and well-stocked,


Want more tips? Check out (and Like) my Facebook page.

Viva La Vivolo! Sharing Your Business’ Business Creates Connection

Walking on the main drag a couple weeks ago in downtown Harrison, I was thrilled to a see this birth announcement in the window of Trattoria Vivolo:

The handwritten announcement not only made me excited for the Vivolo family, it endeared me to the restaurant even more. When I thought about it, this sharing of news with the community created an emotional connection between me and this local business.

Businesses look to Facebook and Twitter to make real connections with customers and potential customers every day. But don't forget that relationship-building can also be accomplished with poster board and a Sharpie.

You may not think it, but there are plenty of customers who want to know when you've got something to celebrate. They may wonder what your life is like outside your business, and may be experiencing similar milestones. The may not care to know how you're saving 15 percent or more on your car insurance, but likely would want to hear about upcoming weddings, graduations and birthdays. So don't be afraid to share your own business, in addition to your business proper.

Oh, and congratulations to proud papa and Chef/Owner Dean Vivolo. My best wishes to the newly expanded Vivolo family!



P.S. Let's create a connection of our own: Find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Shop Talk: Holiday Shopping (and Promotion) Starts Here

The following was originally published in The Harrison Report on Nov. 5, 2010.

Shop Talk Business happenings in and around Harrison

Written by Carla Rose Fisher

Thursday, 5 November 2010

In West Harrison…

UNIQUE IN NEW YORK: Shop Talk's first reader write-in recommendation prompted me to visit West Harrison last week. Walking into 23 Taylor Square, I discovered a gift wonderland that smells like Christmas.

Taylor Square Shoppe can serve as an example for retail storeowners, especially for ideas on how to bump up store traffic and holiday sales. And since we all have holiday shopping to do ourselves, you should stop in and view the store’s unique offerings, because you just may find you don’t need to shop anywhere else.

It’s amazing how many items 750 sq. ft. can hold. Turns out, the wonderful aroma upon my entering was the Frasier Fir scent in the Thymes candle line, also available in hand lotion and other products.

Owner Maria Anella opened the shop five months ago, and is planning a grand opening in mid-November, just in time for the holidays. Having managed the Chilmark Gift Gallery at Prescription Plus in Briarcliff for the past 12 years, Anella jumped at the chance to open a gift gallery in West Harrison, where she’s lived for 20 years.

“I love this community, and I fill my store with things I love,” she said. “It really is my dream store, and I love what I do.”

As a local merchant and mother to a son who came up through the school system, Anella continues to be a hands-on volunteer. She’ll soon be joining the community neighborhood watch and the newly reopened Harrison Chamber of Commerce. During each of the weekly neighborhood car shows over the summer, Anella gave away $25 gift cards. At last week’s Halloween parade, she gave away Silly Bandz to the kids. She knows that freebies are a great way to get customers in the door.

When choosing which items to carry, Anella considers her customers. “I like to find things that are different, and I think, ‘What’s a great gift for a great price?’” Here you’ll find stylish gifts starting at $3. And handbags start at $24. Kids can shop for inexpensive gifts for mom and dad, grandma and grandpa. Bosses can shop for company gifts. No matter the recipient, Anella has great taste: A bracelet she carries was featured in last month’s issue of InStyle magazine.

A sampling of what you’ll find at Taylor Square Shoppe: accessories like scarves, including pashminas; jewelry, from funky costume jewelry to high-end designers like Judith Jack and Crislu, as well as vintage lines like Annie Koplik and Clara Beau; tween gifts; boys’ gifts; baby gifts; men’s and women’s watches; wallets; handbags by former Vera Bradley designer Stephanie Dawn; Lolita wine and martini glasses; the Tea Forte line of silk-infused tea; fancy walking canes; Voluspa candles; lint-free flour sack kitchen towels; and greeting cards, from the popular Champagne line to homemade cards, including handmade cards by Samantha Shopovick, a ninth-grader at Harrison High School.

A certified pharmacy technician in her former career, Anella is huge on customer service. It’s why she offers free gift-wrapping and free local delivery (including downtown Harrison, White Plains, North White Plains and North Castle), why she takes pride in creating custom gift baskets and why she offers discounts — seniors and teachers receive 10 percent off, as does anyone visiting the store for the first time. She also ships.

During my visit, store patron Marie Tedeschi came in for her custom-ordered gift basket. “I’m not normally a shopper, but Maria makes it so easy,” Tedeschi said. “She comes up with beautiful ideas all the time. I just love this store; it’s so convenient to have this here.”

Gift baskets are Anella’s specialty. For individuals and companies, she fills them with Ferrara products and other Italian imports and items carefully chosen for the recipient. She also creates fruit baskets, baby baskets and wedding baskets.

A smart marketer, Anella maintains a mailing list for sending postcards with valuable offers, and her son helped her post flyers throughout Park Lane. Since marketing changes with the times, Anella knew she needed to be on Facebook when she was shopping online and saw the ubiquitous “Find us on Facebook” tagline. She’s received great responses from her Facebook page, especially from Harrison teachers.

Holiday hours are Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 12-9 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Call 914-949-3800.

Talk Back

In what ways have you reached out to customers in your community? Are there promotion ideas aside from those discussed in this article that have been effective for your business? Comment and share!

Shop Talk TipTime to Post Your Holiday Hours

Even in October, I started seeing signs in storefronts advertising holiday hours, the most creative being Quizno’s, on the corner of Halstead and Harrison avenues: “Quiz the Season.” Posting holiday hours early lets your customers know you care about their busy schedules so they can plan errands accordingly. Be sure to post the holidays you observe, not just Thanksgiving and Christmas, so your customers know you won’t be open on those days. Read more on my previous post about tips for posting holiday hours.

Carla Rose Fisher is a freelance writer and Web consultant who specializes in marketing for small businesses and startups. She is also an award-winning songwriter and is on the Executive Board of the Harrison Chamber of Commerce.

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