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Shop Small

An inside look at Huntington Village's Little Switzerland Toy Store. Photo by Lina Weingarten

COVID-19 has impacted business globally, but for local mom-and-pop shops across Long Island, they have been hit twice as hard. 

Between the impact of online retailers, plus big box stores, the pandemic has made it even more difficult to make a sale for these smaller businesses.

When people shop small, the sales tax goes right back into the local economy. The community depends on these stores to make the village look great, while also supporting a neighbor. 

That’s why on Thanksgiving weekend, Small Business Saturday immediately followed the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, with hopes to bring revenue into the smaller stores. 

All weekend long throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, local shop owners gleamed with hope that customers would continue their holiday shopping “small” and keeping these businesses afloat. 

Here’s what some small business owners had to say: 

Madison’s Niche employees at the Stony Brook store. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Madison’s Niche 

83 Main St., Stony Brook/14 Wall St., Huntington

Madison’s Niche, with four locations throughout Long Island, is a lifestyle boutique that sells everything from baby onesies to UGG boots to home décor.

At the Stony Brook Village Center store, director Carolynn Mertens said that they did “fantastic” this past holiday weekend.

“We’re up in sales,” she said. “We’re very grateful to be up, and we didn’t think it was going to happen, but we’re very lucky.”

From Friday to Sunday, Mertens said she saw dozens of people shopping with their holiday lists in hand, while a lot of people were even shopping for themselves.

“I think people want to support small businesses,” she said. “They don’t want to see any more empty stores in their community and are trying to keep our mom-and-pop stores alive.”

Compared to a big box store or the mall, Mertens believes that customers feel more comfortable shopping in her stores.

“Our stores are easy to shop in,” she said. “We can maintain social distancing and we are constantly disinfecting.”

Morolay Children’s Boutique is now open by appointment only. Photo by Lina Weingarten

Morolay Children’s Boutique 

302 New York Ave., Huntington 

This holiday season is looking a little different for Morolay Children’s Boutique on New York Avenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Under these unique circumstances, we’re fully by appointment,” said owner Leah Casabona. 

But that works in the customers favor, because it provides an even more one-on-one shopping experience for people looking to come in. 

“The customer service here is much better than big chain stores,” she said. “We personally deal with our customers and live in the community.”

For the past 21 years, Morolay has been a staple to the Huntington community, known for selling special occasion wear to local children. 

“If you support small business, that sales tax goes back into our own local community,” she said. “And, the uniqueness of Huntington makes it a desirable place to live.”

Casabona said that shopping small is the way to go this and every other year.

“We need to be more conscious to help small businesses now more than ever,” she said.

Lily Bergh stands behind the counter at Little Switzerland Toys & Dolls. Photo by Lina Weingarten

Little Switzerland Toys & Dolls

267 Main St., Huntington

Lily Bergh, owner of Little Switzerland Toys & Dolls, said she has been in the business for more than 30 years. 

This holiday season, she’s reminding people that shopping in-store is part of the magic that is Christmas. 

“It was so nice seeing the kids with their big smiles this weekend,” she said. “They were making lists for Santa while walking around the store.”

Since opening in 1981, Bergh said that three generations now have been walking through her front door to buy presents during the holidays.

“The kids will come in with their grandmas and say with excitement, ‘Wow, a toy store!’”

And that reaction isn’t the same when a child walks through a toy aisle at a larger retailer.

“You’re just a number at a big box store,” she said. “And, I think it’s important to actually be able to pick up or touch a toy.” 

Bergh said that the last nine months have been hard for her and the business, but Saturday and Sunday had a great turnout. 

“It was awesome,” she said. “But we need more to make up for the four months we were closed. We want to stay in Huntington. It’s important.”

She said her toy store is a “wonderland” and strives to bring good memories to little ones visiting inside. She hopes that more people will continue to shop at her store, especially now. 

“I don’t care who you shop from, but you need to shop local,” she said.

TandyWear in Commack recently expanded. Photo by Rita Egan

TandyWear

89 Commack Road, Commack

TandyWear has been in business for over 20 years and owner Tandy Jeckel said shopping at her store is a safe and fun experience, especially during these unprecedented times.

“We’re on a first-name basis with our customers,” she said. “You’ll get a personalized experience — we have an amazing team, amazing stylists, we’ll find your style.”

Jeckel said that this past Saturday was the best Small Business Saturday they have ever had.  

“It was amazing,” she said. “We had so much foot traffic. It was great.”

Known for their dressy wear, comfy wear, going out wear and trendy wear, the store has something for everyone. 

“We get new styles daily, and we sell masks to match,” she said.

Throughout the holiday weekend, Jeckel said she offered doorbusters and 20% off the entire store.

Jeckel thinks people are gravitating toward the smaller shops because the big box stores are also competing with online retailers and are closing due to them. 

“The big box stores aren’t around anymore,” she said. “You have a few small chain stores, and then us.”

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Broadway in Rocky Point is just one small main street on Long Island hoping for customers this holiday season. Photo by Kyle Barr

It was a fall shopping season like no other.

One doesn’t have to think too far back to remember the crowds you could practically surf off of during the annual season of Black Friday sales. Not so much this year, as more people stayed home to avoid potentially catching or spreading COVID-19. 

Online sales, however, have jumped tremendously. Amazon’s Prime Day started early in October, and Forbes has reported that original projections for the weekend before Cyber Monday indicated increases of online purchases compared to 2019 from 36 to 50%. Amazon has already said this year’s holiday shopping season has been the biggest in its history, contending that medium to small businesses that sell on Amazon have seen record numbers.

Meanwhile, as much as small brick-and-mortar businesses have been impacted by the ongoing pandemic, we will still have to wait and see how well they did on Small Business Saturday, a shopping holiday promoted by American Express.

Experts, from as close as the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University have expressed fear for these small shops, with expectations that close to half of businesses like restaurants could be closed by 2021. 

Alignable, a Boston-based online business referral network, reported Dec. 1 based on a poll of 9,204 small business owners that 48% fear they will not earn enough revenue this month to keep their businesses afloat. 

Main streets all over Long Island have experienced their share of woe, and while some retail owners say times remain tough, others expressed their thanks to customers who went out of their way to patronize their local mom-and-pop.

Feasts for Beasts owner Alan Ghidaleson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Feasts For Beasts

45 Route 25A, Mount Sinai

The pet store and groomer in the small outlet along Route 25A in Mount Sinai normally does not do too much for the Black Friday weekend and doesn’t have many extra sales on top of what they already do. Owner Alan Ghidaleson said things on Small Business Saturday were a bit slow.

“For brick-and-mortars, this is a tough time,” Ghidaleson said. As for the pandemic: “We’re surviving it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but we get by.”

The owner said sales start to lag after Thanksgiving, as they have for the past five years or so. However, he said his business will survive the year, and hopes for better next year.  

Tricia and Stan Niegocki of Niegocki Farms. Photo by Kyle Barr

Niegocki Farms

604 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mount Sinai

As the last farm in Mount Sinai, the family owned Niegocki located at the southern corner of Heritage Park has a lot riding on its shoulders as the last holdout of the area’s agricultural charm. 

It’s why co-owner Tricia Niegocki said they have been able to survive the past few months, because of the customers and locals who know and support them. For Thanksgiving, the farm sold turkeys and eggs, though on the whole more people were looking for smaller birds. The farm opened up for tree sales after Thanksgiving, and since then sales have been good.

“We have a lot of locals that love to shop local and support local,” Niegocki said. “Since we’re the last farm here in Mount Sinai, we’ve actually been blessed to have a good past couple of days.” 

She said that because Christmas trees do not have a very large margin, they did not do any sales for Small Business Saturday. Still, things on the farm do not change very much, and while other businesses were forced to close early in the pandemic, Niegocki was considered essential. She said they will be able to maintain over the winter, adding they plan to use their space to host other small shops as a pop-up mall of sorts. They have already hosted two such events over the past year.

“Most of our customers are friends, people who have become friends over the years,” the farmer said. “We are very blessed we have animals that provide us meat and eggs, so that demand will always be there.”

Cat Rosenboom, owner of Rose & Boom in Mount Sinai. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Rose & Boom Boutique

176 N. Country Road #3, Mount Sinai

Cat Rosenboom, owner of Rose & Boom in Mount Sinai and St. James, said that supporting local business is more important than ever.

“I always say to shop small,” she said. “But it’s even more true this year.”

Rosenboom, who has owned the Mount Sinai location for four years this month, opened her second store in St. James nearly six months before the stay-at-home shutdown.

“We had just opened up and then had to close the door once we started to get our name out there,” she said. 

But despite the coronavirus crisis, she said people were shopping and supporting her stores throughout the whole pandemic, by purchasing things online through her social media accounts and delivering them personally to customers close by.

“You get a personal experience here that you won’t get at a big box store,” she said. “We take pride in getting to know our customers and their families.”

She also will host local retailer pop-ups to support fellow small business owners.

“We like to help local retailers and get the word out about their business,” she said. 

Leading up to Black Friday, the shops did daily surprise sales every day in hopes to bring people in – and it worked. “We allowed 10 people in the stores at a time, and they were busy the entire day,” she said. 

— Julianne Mosher

Merrily Couture in Mount Sinai. Photo from Google Maps

Merrily Couture

340 Route 25A, Mount Sinai

Manager of the Mount Sinai formal wear shop, Krystle Weber Hughes, said times have been tough since the start of the pandemic, as so much of their business depends on formal occasions. Their stellar event, school prom, was largely canceled by every school district in the local area. They were closed during the pandemic’s height, and all their shipments were delayed. To this day they are receiving items they ordered all the way back in January.

The store doesn’t have too many discounts around the time of Black Friday, but Weber Hughes said COVID has meant they have had to clean dressing rooms every time one is used, and they have to manage their space to make sure people are socially distanced.

She said they have received some returning customers, while others are somewhat hesitant to buy anything too early before an event that may well be canceled.

“Everything really got turned upside down because of COVID,” she said. “I think people are so afraid of events being cancelled, they’re waiting until the last minute to purchase a dress.”

Weber Hughes said they are waiting for January to see how things are, as that is when their prom season starts. Once that comes around, she said they will likely know how good the year will be.

Marion Bernholz, center, the owner of The Gift Corner. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Gift Corner

157 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai

Marion Bernholz, owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, has seen the impact a loyal customer base can have on a small shop for getting through a tough time.

TBR News Media has talked to Bernholz every Small Business Saturday for the past three years, and each time she has said it’s the customers who look at her as a friend and neighbor who help her survive in a time of booming online retail.

“We have been doing OK,” Bernholz said. “People have come up to me in Stop & Shop and asked if I worked at the store. They asked me, ‘Are you doing OK?’” 

But it seems word of mouth has worked for her. She said they have been receiving a host of new customers, adding that she estimates they had been ringing up 20 new customers a day from people coming to the North Shore during the summer and fall, many of whom were not able to take their usual vacations.

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of Game On in Miller Place and Smithtown

Game On

465 Route 25A, Miller Place

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of Game On, a used and refurbished video game and console retailer with locations in Miller Place and Smithtown, said he has been doing 200% to 300% better than last year, both in terms of sales and customers, which is something that to him was concerning considering just how hard it has been for so many other businesses out there. 

When businesses were forced to close, Whitworth and his business partner each came to the separate stores on the North Shore and sold some of their product online, which kept things moving.

“We’re very blessed,” he said. “We were profitable during that phase, too, while other stores couldn’t. For example, you couldn’t do anything for a nail salon. … It’s a weird feeling to have so many places struggle and then us flourish. We didn’t do anything different, we just got lucky.” 

Whitworth hosted two $1,500 giveaways to two local businesses this year. 

While Whitworth did a host of sales during last year’s Small Business Saturday, this year he tried to make it more subdued to make sure there weren’t too many people crowded close together in his store. Still, there was a steady stream of people coming into the store all day Saturday.

“We’re lucky, we sell things people really, really want right now during a pandemic when they stay home, so we really didn’t push it this year,” he said. “I didn’t want people thinking they need to come support us, because there are a lot of stores that are really actually struggling.”

Jim Donnelly, the owner of Grand Slam Tennis in Miller Place. and Commack. Photo by Kyle Barr

Grand Slam Tennis

816 Route 25A, Miller Place

Jim Donnelly, the owner of Grand Slam Tennis in Miller Place, with his main store in Commack, said his prospects for year to year are much different as a specialty shop. Small Business Saturday normally has no effect on him.

“People that enjoy specialty stores, and have all the information, they constantly come to us, we don’t have to advertise or anything,” Donnelly said. “They’re our advertisement.”

The biggest problem for him and his shop was when different municipalities closed tennis courts all over Long Island, despite the argument that tennis is one of the safer sports one could play during a pandemic, as by necessity players are well distanced. The tennis store owner said he and other tennis advocates got together to put a paper on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk arguing for tennis to be permitted, and was shortly thereafter allowed along with sports like golf. 

“We had a good summer — I hate to brag — I’m just glad I was in the right business for a pandemic, because I would hate to be the rest of these guys,” he said.

Jim and Sue Fiora, along with Misty the dog. Photo by Kyle Barr

Miller Place Bait and Tackle

834 Route 25A, Miller Place

The fishing business had some interesting ups and downs this year, according to Miller Place Bait and Tackle owners Jim and Sue Flora. Their store had to close along with many others for several months, but once they opened they found many people who had never tried fishing before were buying rods and bait. It was one of the few activities still available to people during the height of COVID.

“It’s been a good season for us because everybody went fishing,” Sue Flora said. “So many people come in saying, ‘I want to learn to fish.’ It was very good for us. They supported us through it.”

She said customers were coming into the shop on Saturday to buy products or even gift cards, specifically to support them. 

“We have a nice bunch of loyal customers — we’re really fortunate,” she said.

Jim Flora said they were doing slightly better than last year, and should be in a relatively safe place going into next year.

Flowers on Broadway owner Stephanie Navas. Photo by Kyle Barr

Flowers on Broadway

43 Broadway, Rocky Point

April was supposed to be Rocky Point flower shop Flowers on Broadway’s 20-year anniversary celebration. Owner Stephanie Navas said they are still somewhat struggling as so many weddings are still on hold while big events, which usually means big sales for florists, are much more subdued.

They have had more to do with funeral work but, despite the morbid implication, even those sales are down compared to previous years, as more funerals have become much smaller events.

“Walk-in traffic isn’t anything like it used to be,” Navas said. “We are doing more home deliveries then we did in the past, but it doesn’t quite balance out.”

While she expected to see some more traffic for Thanksgiving, especially considering more people weren’t traveling, they didn’t see too big a jump in sales. Black Friday, on the other hand, is the “absolute worst” day to be open. This year she said they made little to nothing on the biggest shopping holiday of the year. Saturday did get slightly better, and now Flowers on Broadway is trying to start its big Christmas push. 

Still, she said she’s not ready to throw in
the towel. 

“My hope is just to do as well as last year,” she said. “I’m not hoping for an increase, I’m just looking to maintain at this point.”

Local stores are encouraging shoppers to buy local this holiday season. Photo by Julianne Mosher

COVID-19 has impacted business globally, but for local mom-and-pop shops in villages across Long Island, they have been hit twice as hard. 

Between the impact of online retailers, plus big box stores, the pandemic has made it even more difficult to make a sale. 

When people shop small, the sales tax goes right back into the local economy. The community depends on these stores to make the village look great, while also supporting a neighbor. 

That’s why on Thanksgiving weekend, Small Business Saturday immediately followed the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, with hopes to bring revenue into the smaller stores. 

All weekend long in Port Jefferson village, local shop owners gleamed with hope that customers would continue their holiday shopping “small” and keeping these businesses afloat. 

Here’s what some small business owners had to say: 

Stacy Davidson, owner of Pattern Finders/Stacy’s Finds on East Main Street. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Pattern Finders/Stacy’s Finds

128 E. Main St., Port Jefferson

Stacy Davidson, owner of Pattern Finders/Stacy’s Finds on East Main Street, said she was pleasantly surprised on Thanksgiving weekend with the amount of people shopping around.

Unique gifts can be found at the shop, including antiques, furs, evening wear and accessories. 

Davidson said while the store is most known for her vintage jewelry, they also have a large selection of new pieces as well. She said that shopping at her store gives the customer a one-of-a-kind experience.

“All of the items in a store like mine you won’t find anywhere else ¬— especially online,” she said. 

At her store, Davidson said that all of her items are packaged nicely, “so all you have to do is hand them over with a smile — no gift wrap needed.”  

Davidson added that when people shop small, they’re supporting the community. 

“I’m very encouraged from the local community who came out to support us,” she said.

Joann Maguire, owner of Max & Millie. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Max & Millie

142 E. Main St., Port Jefferson

Joann Maguire, owner of Max & Millie, a woman’s clothing boutique nestled alongside East Main Street, said that her store gives customers a personalized shopping experience that cannot compete with a big box retailer.

“You should always shop small, not just during the holidays,” she said. 

The store is known for casual, chic and trendy clothes ranging in sizes 2 to 16, accessories and unique jewelry, including a small rack of pieces from former neighbor, Susan Rodgers Designs. 

Throughout the holiday weekend, Max & Millie sponsored several discounts from Friday to Sunday, completing the deal with their famous gift wrap. 

“We support our community,” she said. “We’ve always been there for you in terms of fundraisers, now it’s time for you to support us.”

Alana Miletti, owner of Fame & Rebel. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Fame and Rebel

415 E. Main St., Port Jefferson

Alana Miletti owns two locations of her store Fame and Rebel — one on Main Street in Patchogue, and the other on East Main in Port Jefferson village — so this past weekend was double the work as shoppers flocked in.

“Small businesses give back to the community more than a big box store does,” she said. “We employ so many community members and offer one-on-one personalization for each and every shopper.”

Throughout the holiday weekend, she offered a “shop more, save more” sale, which got dozens of people into her doors.  

Known for her on-trend clothing for women, the boutiques are constantly bringing in new arrivals that will fit any style every day.

“When you support a local business, you’re also supporting your town, city and neighborhood,” she said. “Small businesses pay sales taxes to the city and county the businesses are located in, and that tax money is used to support public schools, parks, roads and sidewalks, as well as fund public service workers. Imagine your town without any small businesses — pretty scary.”

Marianna Cucchi, owner of The Soap Box. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Soap Box

18 Chandler Square, Port Jefferson

Marianna Cucchi’s store, The Soap Box, has been in the village for 13 years. 

The shop, located in Chandler Square, houses hundreds of different gifts fit for everyone’s list. From homemade designer soaps, to bath and body products, to personal care, pajamas and other unique gifts, Cucchi said the last nine months have been hard and it’s going to take a while to recover.

“Shopping small is important because it supports our community and keeps our businesses open — especially after being closed over 70 days during the pandemic,” she said. 

Throughout the big shopping weekend, The Soap Box offered sales to shoppers stopping by. While browsing, they’d stop to admire the collection of rubber ducks in hats sitting politely by the front window. Cucchi also offers custom gift wrapping for all orders, a complete one-stop shop.

“We need to keep small town America,” she said. “This is your community and we want to see it thrive.”

Kandy Muñoz, owner of The Amazing Olive. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Amazing Olive

213 Main St., Port Jefferson

For the foodie on your shopping list, Kandy Muñoz said she can provide them with a unique and tasty gift this year. The Amazing Olive has two locations,  a newer location in Patchogue run by Muñoz’s son Steven, and her original Port Jefferson spot that she’s owned since 2012. 

Known for their vast collection of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, wine vinegars, salts and rubs, the store can accommodate any taste. 

But for this holiday season, Kandy Muñoz said personalized bottle labels and gift baskets are extremely popular this year. 

“When you shop small, you’re supporting a neighborhood family,” she said. 

A scene from a previous Witches Night Out event before the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo from Lucky to Live Here Realty

Witches, grab your broomsticks and head to Cold Spring Harbor later this month for a weeklong shopping crawl — just make sure you bring a mask to wear along with your hat.
What is usually one night on Main Street where witches come out to dine, shop and strut, Lucky to Live Here Realty, coordinators of the event, decided to make it a weeklong event to support small business amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
For more than 10 years, Witches Night Out would gather thousands of witches, warlocks and non-magical shoppers to the town for one night of deals and promotions as a way to bring the community together and encourage local shopping.
“We were debating if we should do it or not,” Ashley Allegra, marketing coordinator for the Cold Spring Harbor real estate agency said. “We really wanted to help the businesses on Main Street, and this was something we could do safely.”
So instead of hosting the Witches Night Out, they spread out the event to a weeklong spree coined Witches Week.
Allegra said that by having witchy shoppers come throughout a several-day span was safer than congregating everyone into one night and implement more social distancing.
“It’s something different that gets people out and do something,” she said.
Witches Week will take place Oct. 27 through Oct. 30, and about 30 different businesses will be partaking in the festivities. Each store will have discounts and deals to bring customers in. Allegra added there will be a raffle with three winners at the end of the event, with chances to win a gift basket filled with the shops’ gift cards.
And on top of that, something different compared to past years, Witches Week will host a witch scavenger hunt. Each shop and restaurant will have several witches hidden indoors and customers can try to find them. The number of witches per shop is available on the Lucky to Live Here website.
“It’s a fun way to support the community and the local businesses of Cold Spring Harbor Main Street,” Allegra said.
Vita Scaturro, chairwoman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, agreed. She said that by shopping online and through e-commerce, small businesses cannot survive. “It’s a different experience because you have direct customer service, you can see and touch the items,” she said. “It’s imperative to support them.”