The Examiner

Local Small Businesses Look to Adapt to Changing Retail Landscape

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The staff at The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville was busy helping customers last Friday at their Washington Avenue store.
The staff at The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville was busy helping customers last Friday at their Washington Avenue store.

It’s been an unusual holiday season, as warmer than average temperatures haven’t made it seem like Christmas is approaching.

Then for the first time, online sales surpassed brick-and-mortar retail sales on Black Friday weekend, a trend expected to become the new normal.

But some local, independently-owned businesses say they are surviving, and in some cases thriving, by providing a specialty retail experience that can’t be duplicated online and by adapting to changing tastes.

At Heller’s Shoes in Pleasantville, store manager Silvana Felippelli said business had been very brisk, probably improved compared to last year.

“I thought we wouldn’t be because the weather hasn’t helped us,” she said. “This week it kind of leveled, but for the past three weeks we’ve been swamped.”

Customers are not just buying gifts for others, but also shoes for themselves, she said. A 20 percent off sale and large clearance table helped lure customers into the store, who often end up making other purchases.

One product driving sales are the now-ubiquitous Ugg boots, still a hot item.

“I have a list behind the counter of at least 20 people waiting for sizes,” Felippelli said. “Even though the weather hasn’t helped, the Uggs are something that isn’t just (about) weather, it’s more style.”

Felippelli said the recent announcement of the closing of Try & Buy Toy Store in Pleasantville gave her cause for concern.

“I’ve been with Heller’s for 26 years, and I love it when I hear a new store or a new restaurant is opening,” she said. “It brings people into the town. When someone goes out of business that hurts everyone. The toy store brings people into the village and they walk around and shop local.”

Internet sales are having an impact, even at local shoe stores. Felippelli said people will come in and try something on, but if the color they want isn’t available they will go online and buy it.

“They offer free shipping back, so they can return it a hundred times and not pay for it,” added sales assistant Alyssa Iacovello.

However, the women said loyal long-time customers, especially older customers, helped keep the store in business.

“It’s amazing sometimes certain customers will come back two or three times when they’re looking for something specific,” Iacovello said. “They don’t go elsewhere. They want to support the local stores.”

At The Village Bookstore on Washington Avenue, owners Roy Solomon and Yvonne vanCort said business so far seemed normal, with much of it coming on weekends. Weekdays are much quieter, they said.

“There are times when the staff is saying, ‘Oh my God, why are you making us work,’” VanCort said. “Retail always goes in spurts.”

Solomon said he too was sad to hear about Try & Buy’s pending closure and concerned about the impact it may have on other village businesses.

“I don’t know anything is going to go in there, so that’s going to be a lot of customers who aren’t coming here and may not shop at any of our stores,” he said.

Over the past few decades independent bookstores were decimated by large chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble and later online retailers like Amazon and e-readers. But Solomon said there had recently been a rise in small bookstores, with new stores recently opening in Chappaqua and Katonah. He said area residents wanted the service and convenience of having a variety of independently run stores.

“People want to shop at a store like Matt’s next door,” Solomon said of Glass Onion, a gallery gift shop, “or a store like ours or Try & Buy because that’s what keeps their neighborhood nice.”

At Mount Kisco Sports, the spring-like weather has not helped sell heavy winter clothing, but manager Debbie Camino said customers have still been buying fleece sweaters and light jackets by The North Face and Patagonia.

“We got a lot of early shoppers, which was weird, even before Thanksgiving they were buying stuff for Christmas already,” Camino said. “I still have a lot of jackets left right now, which I would normally have a lot less of. But I’m sure in another two weeks these will be gone. Right now people want to be out, they don’t want to be inside shopping.”

Having a health-conscious population helps sales year-round for the sporting good store, as customers stock up on running shoes and tennis racquets, she said. The store, which will soon move to a new location in the village, also supplies athletic products for local youth sports teams.

Squires in Chappaqua has been selling clothing for men, women and children for more than 80 years. While many clothing retailers have put away their summer clothes until the spring, owner Michael Kushner said his loyal well-heeled customers know his store will always have what they need.

“People are going on vacation this time of year, a lot of people are going away to Hawaii or the Bahamas and they’re looking for a bathing suit or sandals,” Kushner said. “And since we carry those products year-round, we’re quite busy with that stuff but a little slower with the cold weather gear.”

While most customers are local residents, Kushner said that carrying high-end specialty products like those from the outdoor gear line Arc’Teryx attract customers from elsewhere. He said customers return for the wide variety of quality brand products. Word-of-mouth business is a big factor.

Kushner said the opening of more retail stores in Chappaqua in recent years helps all businesses.

“For a while there we were mostly nail salons, and if stores came in they would leave, but the last couple of years we have gotten some nicer stores, a more interesting mix,” he said.

Online competition has made it necessary to stock what the customer wants, when they want it, he said.

“It requires having inventory, carrying things year-round so when they come in, regardless of what they ask for, when they ask for it, we try to have it in stock,” Kushner said. “Not just we’ll get it for you. That’s the only thing we can do to combat the Internet.”





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