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By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Friday, January 26, 2007

Gloria Ferraguto of Lee, dressed as Miss Liberty, gives waves and smiles to vehicles passing by Liberty Tax Service in Hampton on Wednesday afternoon. “All the time that I’m out there waving, I’m laughing and laughter is healthy; good medicine,” she said.
[Photo by Deb Cram]

As you might expect, Miss Liberty is a high-spirited gal who gets a lot of support from patriotic passers-by.

“Go Liberty!” yells one man from his open truck window on Route 1.

Liberty waves back and gives him a big smile.

Honking horns are common when 72-year-old Gloria Ferraguto pulls the green Miss Liberty cape over her head, dons the spiked crown, and stands on the street to capture attention for her boss’ new downtown business, Liberty Tax Service. She’s been doing this part-time for three weeks now, which is exactly two weeks and six days longer than anyone else had been willing to do the job.

Liberty owner Cindy Slater is now recruiting street wavers from Labor Ready, a job placement service. Everyone shows up one day, she said, and never comes back. The pay starts at $8 an hour.

John Fernandez, 26, of Exeter, was Miss Liberty on Tuesday. He was wearing a couple of layers of clothing and had heating packs in his shoes, a trick he learned in his usual job in construction.

Robert Bernier, 41, of Portsmouth, who also usually works construction, stood outside as Uncle Sam.

“I hope it gets business,” he said.

It does, according to Slater. Everyone who has come in, she said, did so because of the people standing out front.

“They say wavers are the number one way to get customers,” she said.

Ferraguto is especially good at engaging potential customers, Slater said, because of her animated personality. Other wavers just stand and well, wave.

“With Gloria out there, it just gets everybody beeping,” Slater said.

Ferraguto loves the work.

“It’s just a thrill,” she said. “I think it’s fun and obviously, I’m a person who likes fun. All that fun I’m having, I’m laughing all the time.”

Ferraguto, who is originally from Boston, has been a secretary for most of her working life. She now works part-time in retailing, and occasionally a restaurant near her work recruits her to play the kazoo for birthday parties. She does a remarkable rendition of “Happy Birthday” on the instrument (To hear audio, visit the Web site).

Retirement is a long way off, when standing and waving helps make the car payment, she said.

“I never thought I’d be embarrassed,” she said. “It’s an honest job.”

Slater bought the Liberty Tax Service franchise and moved into the space formerly occupied by the children’s clothing store, Bib ‘N Crib. She wanted a store in Portsmouth or Exeter, but couldn’t find appropriate space, she said.

The parent company encourages the Liberty Tax Service businesses to open next to an anchor store, Slater said, a facet missing from downtown Hampton. Marketing is a big part of her plan to bring in customers.

The business offers coupons for tax preparation, with Liberty Tax Service offering to donate the amount of the coupon used to Cell Phones for Soldiers.

On Friday, March 17, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the local office is holding a St. Patrick’s Day party.

Business should peak in about three weeks. Slater and her two staff get an estimated two to four customers a day. Employees receive weeks of training in preparing returns. Being a certified public accountant is not required.

Liberty gets much of its business from customers who want their tax refund right away. Liberty will cut the check sometimes within an hour, Slater said, after the return is checked with the corporate office.

Slater, a resident of Stratham and a former real estate investor, is considering opening other Liberty franchises in the Seacoast, after this busy tax season ends.

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