As consumers increasingly rely on the internet to find the perfect gift for those on their holiday shopping list, brick-and-mortar store owners along Rye’s Purchase Street are searching for new ways to entice customers to “shop small” during the holiday season.
During the post-Thanksgiving holiday weekend, more than 154 million consumers shopped in stores and online, about 3 million more than last year, though those consumers each spent about $10 less on average. Of that figure, about 44 percent chose to do their shopping from the comfort of their own home.
The organization also reported that spending at local stores and small businesses accounted for 11 percent of all in-store purchases during the weekend that included Black Friday, Small Business Saturday – an initiative trademarked by American Express that aims to encourage patronizing local businesses- and Cyber Monday. Many owners along Purchase Street said shoppers were out in full force during the weekend to kick off their holiday shopping.
Havana Jeans owner Sheryl Blit, who has been in business at 16 Purchase St. for nearly a decade, said “turnout was great on both days” of the holiday weekend.
On Black Friday, Havana opened two hours earlier and customers who visited the store during the early opening were rewarded with a 10 percent discount. All shoppers received a $25 gift card if they spent $150 spent during the post-holiday weekend.
“You have to be promotional and get the customer in the store,” she said. “With the internet and all the department stores having the same product, you have to be very proactive to your customer.”
For Havana Jeans, a store that does not have an e-commerce website, using social media “is key” to promoting their in-store deals and driving customers to the storefront.
“I’m one of these people who needs to feel and touch an item before I buy it,” she said. “And we have a lot of customers like that.”
During the hectic weekend, Havana Jeans also aimed to give customers something their online-only competitors cannot: an enjoyable in-store experience.
“Coming shopping shouldn’t be stressful, you should have a good time,” said the store’s manager Elle Cohen, who added that she typically plays music loudly during the post-Thanksgiving Day weekend. “And on Black Friday, at the fitting rooms, everybody comes out and starts talking to each other. It’s fun.”
Across the road at Rye Running Co., “sales were brisk” during the Black Friday weekend, according to the store’s manager Tim Rabb.
“Business was very good,” he said. “It was as good or better than last year.”
He added that while business is usually fairly slow during the week following the Thanksgiving weekend, “the pattern is that it’s typically going to pick up” in mid-December, he said.
Fig Linens and Home was one of the stores along Purchase Street that chose not to hold any special promotions to in-store shoppers following the Thanksgiving holiday, though the store’s manager Meg Allen said the shop’s website did offer a handful of deals online on Black Friday.
“I think for smaller retail, it’s not really a thing,” she said. “It’s more for like the Walmarts and the Best Buys.”
Even during Small Business Saturday, Allen said, “we didn’t have a lot of traffic, which was surprising.”
In the building next door, women’s clothing store Angela’s saw an uptick in sales during the post-holiday weekend, even though the store did not put a strong emphasis on attracting the Black Friday crowd.
“We’re really not a Black Friday store, but we were pretty busy,” said Samantha Del Gatto, an employee at the 24 Purchase St. store.
Caroline Schneider, owner of Lola, a women’s boutique at 80 Purchase St., agreed with Del Gatto, adding that “Black Friday is never a holiday for us.”
“We get busier as we get closer to Christmas,” she said.
While most store owners said this holiday season has so far been similar to or better than last year, the picture hasn’t been quite so rosy for all businesses along Purchase Street.
“It’s been very slow,” said Claudia Baker, owner of All Paws Gourmet Pet Boutique at 31 Purchase St. “Unfortunately, Amazon is just stealing all the business from brick-and-mortar stores.
“I’ve seen the decline for the last couple years in the business, but this year it’s been really apparent,” she said.
To combat online-only retailers and big-box stores, small businesses are coming up with creative ways to get customers in-store. At Fig Linen and Home, which opened at 28 Purchase St. last year, a mailbox printed with “Letters for Santa” sits at the front of the store. The simple addition has proven to draw the eyes and attentions of younger shoppers, giving children a chance to compile their own wish lists addressed to the North Pole while their parents peruse the store.
“We’ve definitely seen more traffic this year, but I think more people know we’re here,” said Allen. “We also have more smaller gift items than we did last year.”
Angela’s aims to increase its in-store sales by encouraging customers to fill out “must-have” lists of their favorite items. Those lists are then distributed to the client’s husband or significant other.
“It’s kind of a wish list, so we email or call the husband and let them know what their wives are interested in, so that’s driving a lot of business,” Del Gatto said.
Lola takes an even more individualized approach to attract repeat customers during the holiday season.
“We give personal phone calls. We’re not about email blasts, that’s not the nature of the store,” Schneider said. “It’s very personal service.”
It’s that personal service and individualized attention that each store owner said keeps their customers coming back.
“It’s much more intimate” than larger department stores, said Del Gatto. “We’re able to develop a relationship with the clientele and we know what people like and what they’re looking for and I think that’s why they come here, because they have that personalized attention.”
“Especially in a town like Rye, it’s just got that small-town feel,” said Allen. “Knowing the customer’s names and them knowing your names, it’s a friendlier environment. I can’t stand going into those big stores. It’s overwhelming. You don’t know where things are. I like smaller boutiques, because you get that level of service you wouldn’t get otherwise.”
Allen added that small businesses offer a variety of unique products customers cannot find in chain stores.
“You’re not going to find the quality at a bigger store,” Allen said. “If you really want to come in and have a lot of questions about what to put on your bed, we can help you with that. Whereas in a department store, you might have trouble finding somebody to help you.”
Lola’s store manager Patty Kaplowitz said her knowledge of every piece of the boutique’s merchandise is an invaluable asset to her customers.
“If you tell me what you’re looking for, we have so much inventory, so much to choose from, that I can definitely find you the perfect gift,” Kaplowitz said. “We can help you find it, versus Bloomingdale’s or Neiman (Marcus), you’re looking around by yourself.”
Angela’s owner Angela Guitard said she goes “above and beyond” for her clients, from buying them additional undergarments to giving their dog treats when dropping off a client’s purchase.
“Anything that makes them feel comfortable,” Guitard said.
But shop owners add that there are certainly downsides to owning a business along Purchase Street in Rye.
“People are fed up with dealing with parking in town,” said Baker. “They’re busy, and it’s just so easy to sit and home in their PJ’s on the computer and order what they need.”
Schneider echoed that sentiment, adding that “all the roadwork, the meters and the constant ticketing” continue to put a damper on her sales.
“I had to wait 20 minutes today to get a spot,” Kaplowitz added. “It’s a huge issue. Especially for an older customer, it’s tough.”
“We don’t see the town doing anything to compensate for it unfortunately,” Schneider said.
Baker said she frequently allows customers to park in a single space near her shop’s backdoor, allowing patrons to quickly run in and out without needing to search for a parking space.
“That has helped a ton,” she said.
Still, despite the myriad of challenges, Baker said being part of the Rye community is worth the struggle.
“I take pride in my store,” said Baker, who has owned All Paws for a decade. “This store is my heart and soul.”