Category: Archive

Working Lives Winning clients by the basketful

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

If husbands and children were honest, most would admit that buying something for Mother’s Day is often a frenzied, last-minute effort. This past Mother’s Day, however, Christine DiPasquale O’Connor managed to make it a special occasion for 30, 40, maybe even 50 mothers, and all in a mere two days.

The former publishing executive, working in her Astor Court apartment in Manhattan, makes and sells gift baskets, her array of delightful creations ranging in price from $50 to $500. She operates as Simply Elegant, Exquisite Gifts and Gift Baskets. Her motto is "send a lasting impression, more personal than flowers."

O’Connor’s gift baskets include gourmet foods, teas, drinks, coffees, bath & body and personal care products, fine bone china, hand knit woolens as well as gifts for brides, mothers and babies, couples and executives. Her orders have included baskets for delivery to Robin Williams’s private jet, for actors Tom Hanks and Bernadette Peters, for Wall Street traders and for corporate clients such as Allied Irish Bank, Met Life, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft and The Padded Wagon.

In fact, business is so good that she now looking for a commercial location, even assistants to help her.

While in the hectic business of publishing for 10 years, O’Connor traveled extensively, working an average of 12-to-16-hour days, often on weekends. About a year ago, she married Kieran O’Connor.

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"I had to do something so that I could focus on my life with my husband," she said. "After a while, the hours and the stress start to build up. I looked for something I could do from my home office. Being a publishing consultant was something I could do, but I also wanted to do something more creative."

As the daughter of divorced parents who paid her own way through college working as a resident manager, O’Connor, 32, has always been "a doer" and an adapter to circumstances. A native of Rochester, N.Y., her father is Italian-American while her mother, Susan Lawler, is Irish American. "My great-great-grandfather came over from Ireland," she said.

Six months after graduating with a degree in English and writing from Nazareth College in Rochester, O’Connor came to New York. Her first job was as a copyright assistant with John Wiley & Sons. Four and a half years later, she joined Van Nostrand Reinhold as a national account manager. For three years, she was a national account manager with McGraw-Hill.

"In publishing, all my time was in sales," O’Connor said. "Often, I had to give people gifts, but I never liked what I had to give. Also, as a busy professional, I know how hard it is to find the right gifts."

About five years ago, she met Kieran O’Connor, who is now the building manager of the elegant Astor Court, at 90th Street and Broadway, one of the last buildings commissioned by John Astor before he went down with the Titanic.

Three weeks after O’Connor and DiPasquale met, he bought her a ticket to Ireland; subsequently, they were engaged in the beautiful Glens of Antrim, outside O’Connor’s native Belfast.

It was at this point that O’Connor realized she needed not only a job but also a life. "We wanted a family and I wanted a big change," she said. And so she put her creative and practical side together to come up with Simply Elegant last December.

The hardest part of setting out as an entrepreneur, O’Connor said, was leaving her publishing job behind.

"That was my security blanket, every month I knew I would get that paycheck and I lived my life accordingly. Now, I am using my savings to make this venture go forth. Now I have to be more careful with every purchase I make. I hadn’t much money as a child growing up and, now, I am back to that. It’s been a fabulous education."

O’Connor has, however, not abandoned publishing. In addition to her gift basket business, she works part-time as a consultant.

She is also setting up a women’s entrepreneurial group, the first meeting of which took place in her apartment last week.

"It’s been a man’s world for a long time but now women are making strides," she said.

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