Peter grew up at 1502 Burrstone Rd. in Utica, NY, with his French-German and Irish-German parents and went to Utica Schools. Peter was at the younger end of seven brothers and sisters. As a teenager, Peter spent a lot of time working for his two brothers-in-law, who were also business owners and entrepreneurs.
In fact, one of his brothers-in-law was one of the very first pioneers in the health food industry. Remember, too, that this was a time when health food stores and vendors were not yet a part of the mainstream of American life and business. This was an extremely cutting-edge idea, and in some ways, is exactly why Peter Corn became successful in the industry. He hit it at nearly the right time when it was new enough that there weren’t many competitors, but not so early that it would take a decade for people to be ready for it. This was Peter’s first exposure to entrepreneurship.
After working in the new health food industry with his brother-in-law in the 70s, Peter finally spun off his own business, Peter’s Cornucopia in 1985, in the Village of New Hartford in the building now occupied by Georgio’s restaurant. In about 1,000 square feet, on a shoestring budget from a small loan, a little bit of savings and a whole lot of hope, Peter launched his fledgling business.
Peter explained that a lot of his success is due to great locations, industry knowledge, growing in baby steps, a passion for this industry and the look and feel of his stores. Many times a business will spend many years building a business before any profit is made. Peter’s new business only spent about two years in this mode, but even then they were breaking even and slowly building a following.
Also, as an indication of growing in baby steps, as well as buying inventory on-demand, he kept overhead as low as possible. Peter is the kind of person who is positive, but also realistic. He plans for the worst while hoping for the best.
When asked what else helped him become a successful entrepreneur he explained that it is an even mix between the presentation combined with a great product. Peter said, “(The) look and feel (of a business) mean a lot, but it is also about the community and how you support the community that drives the business forward.”
Peter continues to support local businesses when he finds one that fits in with his theme, industry and corporate mission. Two of these local businesses are Whirled Peas, by Denise Sachs-Michalanie of New Hartford, and Sammy and Annie Foods, by Christopher Giruzzi of Barneveld. Both of these businesses will be in a future CyberVillage SpotLight. Others include Toma’s, Owen’s Farm, Chesterfields, Juanita’s Soul Classics, Heidelberg and Daniele’s Foods.
Peter explains his evolution was slow and deliberate, but he always built upon momentum. He didn’t try to rush it. He grew the business in existing office space until it was ready to burst at the seams. Only then would he justify the cost to expand into a new space. This kept momentum moving forward while overhead stayed as low as possible. Peter moved from the first location after about six years, just down the road to 52 Genesee Street, also in New Hartford village. Then it grew to 1,800 square feet, but Peter’s Cornucopia was still moving forward and profitable.
A few years later, they expanded to the entire ground floor of about 2,500 square feet. They could then offer a standup juice bar.
In 2004, once again bursting from the seams, it was time to move again. With an office and stock room in a basement, and parking in the Village becoming an issue, Peter moved into the New Hartford Shopping Center. Now with 10,300 square feet of prime real estate, Peter has his own office, a real stock area, the health food store, a juice bar and very nice café with a WI-FI hotspot. One important note is that the juice bar uses all real fruit and organic juices. This is also one of those small details that Peter believes helped him grow the business. Quality ingredients are very important to his regular customers. The general population is not aware of the fact that many juice bars use sweeteners and syrups rather than just fruit.
Peter spent a lot of time using local friends/consultants, such as Carl Cuccaro to ensure that the look and feel of the new Peter’s Cornucopia in the New Hartford Shopping Center maintained his quality, cozy and natural ambiance. The way Peter described the look he did not desire was grocery store-like with checkout counters. The store resembles popular bookstores with a cozy atmosphere and a center area/desk where friendly people check you out.
We asked Peter what the future holds for his industry and the economy in general. Peter plans to remain in his family-business environment and does not see himself retiring. He is very happy with his existing location, but if there were to be an expansion in the future, it would likely be in a larger city while keeping his headquarters in Utica, NY. Peter feels he has accomplished what he set out to do, with one big, successful store in a great location.
Peter’s view of the economy is that we either bottomed out or we’re close to it. Peter admits it still might take a while before confidence returns, but he is confident it will. Peter isn’t sure that bailing out failed large businesses, while ignoring small businesses, poised for growth, is the best strategy.
No matter which President you voted for, Republican or Democrat, he believes we went in the wrong direction, but we will still recover as a nation — we always do. Peter explained, “Despite the claims that the increased government spending will quicken the economic recovery, I don’t buy it. It will take longer with the government involved but we will recover.