Small Biz Saturday leaves tiny mark on local shops

Steve Lastihenos, (r.) owner of Apollo Comfort Shoes & Shoe Repair in Bayside, hands a pair of UGGs to Angelika Sarac of Bayside who shops with her mother Stefanie on Small Business Saturday. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

In the shadow of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday was created to encourage holiday bargain hunters to patronize local mom-and-pop shops around the country, but a Forest Hills street known for specialized boutiques had mixed results.

“We did see an increase in the early morning,” said George Guzman, owner of Anthony, at 71-05 Austin St., a dapper men’s clothing store. “It was quite active.”

Guzman, a member of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, posted a Small Business Saturday poster in the front of his store and said he would like to participate again next year.

“What doesn’t hurt you can always benefit,” he said.

But he also concluded that the unseasonably warm, mid-60-degree weather might have contributed to the increased foot traffic on Austin Street Saturday.

That is the conclusion drawn by Mirielle Maor, manager of Blue Elephant, a shoe and clothing boutique for children at 107-21 71st Road.

She said Small Business Saturday, in its second year, has not caught on with consumers yet.

“People don’t really know,” she said. “It was nothing special.”

She said Saturday’s crowd, which was nothing to sneeze at, was more likely drawn out by the weather than by the holiday, which was created by American Express and promoted by the local chamber in Forest Hills.

But if shoppers do not pick up the pace of spending at small businesses and instead go to big-box stores, unique neighborhoods like Forest Hills could cease to exist.

“Neighborhoods will become ghost towns,” she said, citing lackluster sales since the recession. “In general, you can tell it’s not he best time.”

The prospect of losing small clothing and specialized food stores did not sit well with Evelyn Blank, who was not aware of Small Business Saturday, but patronizes shops along Austin Street on a regular basis.

“On the food front, it is just fantastic,” she said, listing off the shops where she buys speciality cheeses, natural foods and baked goods.

Blank also shops at smaller clothing boutiques because the staff not only knows her, but knows her taste.

“It’s just great to go into places with unique things where they know you and really care,” she said.

For example, one small clothing store stocks individual items it thinks Blank might like and she tries them on when she stops into the store. But the staff does not exploit her to make a buck.

“They tell you if it looks bad,” she said.

In other areas of the borough, smaller shops reported a boost from Small Business Saturday.

Steve Lastihenos, owner of Apollo Comfort Shoes & Shoe Repair in Bayside, said his store was about 25 busier than a normal Saturday.

“I would guess one-third of people knew about Small Business Day,” he said.

As far as Black Friday sales go, the National Retail Federation reported that consumers across the nation spent $52.4 billion this year — a record number.

On average, shoppers spent $398.62, which is up from last year’s average of $365.34, the NRF said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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