With the holiday shopping season in full swing, small business owners in Lynbrook and East Rockaway are finding new ways to compete with big-box chains and online retailers. Part of their strategy is to offer incentives to entice residents to shop local, though it is not always easy.
“The holiday season’s busier than a normal day, but they’re not as busy as they used to be,” said Anthony Lombardo, the owner of East Rockaway Florist, adding that people can now buy bouquets in supermarkets and drug stores.
Lombardo added, however, that he does not want to compete with those supermarkets and drug stores. “Competing with them would be to bring in their quality of flowers to our business,” he said. “We try to offer better products. We arrange flowers, and we’re more experienced in the business.”
For the holiday season, Lombardo is offering festive bouquets at steep discounts at his store, at 338 Atlantic Ave. His business has also expanded online, and the website eastrockawayflorist.com offers more than 2,000 arrangements that can be shipped anywhere in the world.
Many local businesses have also started to participate in Small Business Saturday — a Black Friday for neighborhood shops that takes place this Saturday.Casey’s Clothing Store, in Lynbrook, is offering Levi’s and Carhartt jeans that day at prices similar to those found online in order to stay competitive. “Even though it will cost us more, we’ll still manage to have stuff at the same price they do, if not cheaper,” said Irwin Messinger, one of the store’s owners.
The shop, at 28 Atlantic Ave., also orders custom sizes. “We have people that have very short sizes and people that need very large sizes, and very small people and very large people,” said Irwin’s wife and the store’s co-owner, Roberta Messinger. “We try to accommodate everybody.”
Two stores down, at 24 Atlantic Ave., Mur-Lee’s Men’s and Boy’s Shop, is also gearing up for Small Business Saturday, when the store will offer discounted men’s sweaters and shirts. According to owner Bruce Levitt, people were already patronizing the shop for the holiday season before Thanksgiving, which he attributes to the quality of service customers receive. “We give shoppers a better shopping experience than they can get in other places,” Levitt said. Mur-Lee’s has been in Lynbrook for 70 years.
Al Patel, the owner of the Lyn Gift Shop across the street, at 11 Atlantic Ave., cannot participate in Small Business Saturday event because American Express, the sponsor, does not consider the store a small business because of its connection to Hallmark. Patel said he has written to American Express about the matter. “So many of us are independent owners, so we’re not big by any means,” he said. “It’s just that we’re affiliated by Hallmark, so they see us as a major corporation.”
This will be Patel’s first holiday shopping season as the shop’s owner, after he purchased it in January from longtime Lynbrook resident Bill Gaylor, who oversaw the business for three decades. Patel will offer customers discounts for the holiday season, with Hallmark providing special promotions on popular items almost every week in December.
According to Patel, the store’s most popular offering — which can be bought at a discount with the purchase of other items — is Techno Plush, the 2017 edition of Hallmark’s animated doll, which this year is a snowman. “We have people that have every single one from Day One,” he said. “And we’ll go through a couple hundred.”
Even before Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations — including a figurine of Santa Claus in a green suit — were on the shelves of the Lynbrook Irish Shop, at 144 Hendrickson Ave. Owner Jennifer Derrig said that to stay competitive with other businesses, she plans to serve tea and give out tote bags to customers this Saturday, and will extend the store’s hours next month.
Derrig lives in Lynbrook with her husband, Andrew; their son, Andrew Jr.; and their daughter, Keira. Both of her children, who attend Lynbrook High School, help in the shop.
Though many businesses have closed in Lynbrook and East Rockaway, Derrig said that small shops offer a relationship with their customers that cannot be found with online retailers, and that she helps people with gift ideas. “You can’t ask Amazon to recommend something for that aunt who’s that difficult person to shop for,” she said, “where you can [come] here and someone can help you and show you something that’s appropriate for that person, or something that’s commonly bought for a person like that.”
Derrig added that the most popular items at the store are food, sweaters and blankets. It is important, she said, for community members to support their local businesses. “It’s small businesses like us that — we’re community — [that] care about the community, so we put community first,” she said.