Black Friday. “It’s not a local thing,” said Ron Rothman of Rothman’s Department Store in Southold. And Chris Nasif, owner of Riverhead Gold & Diamond, called it “a gimmick” the big box stores push to drum up business.
While Mr. Nasif thinks it’s too early to judge how his business will fare this month, he’s optimistic that by running sales on his jewelry, he’ll do well.
Most North Fork merchants, big and small, experienced some uptick in business the day after Thanksgiving. For some, foot traffic continued through the weekend and even into the early part of this week.
There’s an air of cautious optimism among some but not all merchants that an economic turnaround is beginning with the holiday shopping season.
Mr. Rothman, who characterized his Black Friday sales as “not gangbusters,” is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Rothman’s has been in business for more than 90 years, surviving economic ups and downs. For the last 10 or 15 holiday seasons, Mr. Rothman said, he’s seen customers running around frantically from store to store and winding up at Rothman’s at the last minute. “I want them to think of Rothman’s first,” he said.
He doesn’t think a startup business selling the kind of merchandise he offers — everything from needles and thread to high-end guitars — could make a go of it in today’s market. So how does he keep Rothman’s going? “I don’t know how,” he said. “History is what keeps us here.”
Mr. Rothman said shoppers should remember that 68 cents of every dollar they spend locally stays in the community.
Jim Stavrinos, owner of Speed World in Riverhead, which specializes in unique auto parts, said that “if everybody would turn their TVs off, we’d be better off.” A constant barrage of television news reports about economic woes doesn’t encourage people to spend, he added. Nonetheless, he has seen “a steady increase” in business each month this year and thinks it might be because his merchandise is unique.
“We have things nobody else has,” Mr. Stavrinos said. He recently returned from the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas, where he saw one of the largest displays ever of new automotive parts. He left thinking, “Things are turning around.”
But Arthur Faber at the Platinum Prepaid cell phone store in Riverhead spent Black Friday helping out customers who purchased phones at other stores and couldn’t get them to work right.
“We don’t profit from that,” he said. But he hopes he’s created some good will that will help his business in the future.
“We in downtown have to do everything we can” to compete with the box stores along Route 58, Mr. Faber said. Despite having run advertisements about special prices, Mr. Faber wasn’t optimistic going into Black Friday, and his sales lagged that day.
At Chaps Corner in Mattituck, Black Friday business was good, according to owner Bill Gildersleeve. He said sales usually pick up after Black Friday, when shoppers fixate on big box stores, and Cyber Monday, when people buy online.
“Once those dates have passed, we’re really there at crunch time for people,” he said. Shoppers can run in on their lunch hours and leave with an appropriate gift that’s nicely wrapped, he said.
During Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Gildersleeve offered a 20 percent storewide discount and said his loyal customers appreciated the savings. They also appreciated being able to find a parking space and enjoying hot cider in the store while they shopped.
Despite the uptick in business over the past two weeks, Mr. Gildersleeve said, “I don’t think we’ll ever see what we used to.”
Lou Blank of Not Just Bows in Greenport feels people are making the effort to shop locally. The boutique offers a range of hats, trinkets, jewelry, scarves and other items.
A lot of older customers are telling Mr. Blank they don’t want to brave the crowds at the box stores in Riverhead. “They appreciate the personal service we can give them,” he said.
Still, a promotion called Small Business Saturday, promising a $25 credit for American Express card users who spent $25 or more at participating local businesses, was “maybe not quite what it could be,” according to Maureen Gonzalez of Verbena in Greenport. Nevertheless, she endorsed the idea of promoting small businesses.
People went to Riverhead to buy their flat screen TVs on Friday, she said, but then returned to shops like Verbena “looking for something to make them happy.” Verbena carries a mix of jewelry, home goods, gift items and accessories.
Carolee Doucett of Creations by Lisa in Greenport is hoping she’ll see more people shopping locally this holiday season.
Store sales on fashions were “pretty good” on Black Friday and she thinks people are just beginning to realize that Christmas is only a few weeks away.
While small businesses were striving to compete, Tanger Outlets in Riverhead saw a hefty jump in traffic, according to general manager Janine Nebons.
“The traffic certainly was spectacular,” she said, estimating a 10 percent increase over last year. Merchants reported good sales on Black Friday, she said.