Long Islanders descended on downtown business districts looking for deals on Small Business Saturday.
At the Babylon Bean Coffee House, shoppers wrapped around the counter to buy hot drinks and tasty goods, including pies from Audrey’s Baked Goods of Sayville. Seated at a table, Gabriella Guevara and Gabby Blanco, both 19, of Bay Shore, said they came to Babylon for a change of scenery and to patronize a local coffee house.
“I feel like it gives you more of a cozy feel,” Blanco said. "At Starbucks, everyone is on the go. This may be a lot more tight, but it’s more welcoming and quaint.”
Retailers were expecting a strong turnout over the five-day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday was launched by American Express in 2010 to promote locally owned businesses the day after Black Friday. To mark the day, the Empire State Building was lighted blue.
The National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, estimated that more than 164 million people would shop over the five-day weekend. Local brick-and-mortar retailers, however, must contend with Cyber Monday and ever-increasing online sales. Foot traffic is expected to decline 4 to 5 percent at such stores this Thanksgiving, according to RetailNext, a San Jose-based retail analytics company.
Still, retail experts predicted a strong 2018 holiday shopping season thanks to a robust economy, high consumer confidence and a low national unemployment rate.
Some entrepreneurs expected a sales jolt on the day after Black Friday.
"Small Business Saturday has always been a bigger day for us," said Marla Beckles, co-owner of Klutch, a women's clothing boutique in a Valley Stream strip mall.
Beckles and her cousin and co-owner Earth Rowe said they anticipated about a 40 percent boost in sales Saturday. “We think it’s because of that strong sense of community on Long Island," Beckles said.
After the frigid temperatures on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, shoppers were relatively comfortable in milder weather walking around the commercial districts Saturday in Rockville Centre, Huntington, Babylon, Port Jefferson and Patchogue.
In Babylon, families lined up at the Argyle Theatre for a live performance of the Christmas play “The Happy Elf.”
Lori Czarnecki of Merrick took a group of 14 children to see the play at the 1922 theater. She said they came to Babylon for the play and to support small business.
“I think it’s essential to keep towns vibrant and charming,” Czarnecki said.
Mark Perlman and Dylan Perlman reopened the theater in April after a 15-month, $3 million renovation. The father-and-son team said they wanted to bring “Broadway to Babylon” with the theater, which had been closed for four years. They are offering extra value on gift cards and discounted tickets through Cyber Monday.
“In a village like this, with a tightknit business community and supportive chamber, we looked at the importance of location and easy to get to the facility,” Dylan Perlman said. “We wanted to be part of what’s in the neighborhood and people in shopping mode.”
The 500-seat theater had families and children watching the Santa Claus production while the box office sold gift cards and tickets to future touring Broadway shows.
“Among all the retail and food, we’ve had so many people come up asking for gift cards,” Mark Perlman said. “As the holiday season is here, we hope to be the first choice for people to come for a new experience.”
Across the street off Montauk Highway, shoppers were browsing F&M Goods' selection of vintage signs, trinkets, soaps and locally themed merchandise. The general store offered a Babylon T-shirt free with purchases of $50 or more.
“It’s always a good day for us,” said Lonny Drexler, the owner of the store, which has been open for about two years. “We have a lot of restaurants here, but not a lot of retail, and I wanted to bring people to a place to browse a country store atmosphere where they can come to the village and stop in our store.”
In the Town of Babylon, the local Industrial Development Agency offered $10 rebates Saturday for travelers who used the Lyft ride-hailing service within the town, hoping to encourage residents to shop locally.
Shoppers packed the streets of downtown Huntington ahead of its holiday parade and tree lighting ceremony, although the threat of rain canceled the village’s Wall Street Festival.
Lines streamed out the doors of some restaurants, and sidewalks, lined with “Small Business Saturday” signs, were busy.
Bargain hunters and bibliophiles packed Book Revue, which hosted a “blind date with a book” promotion, giving away a free wrapped book with each purchase. The books were dressed in brown paper with a brief description to help readers discover new titles based on their interest or genre.
“It’s something you may not have picked up otherwise,” bookseller Sarah Jordan said. “It gives a nice feel to have people coming in today and it’s more community driven.”
Steve Iger of Albany, who was visiting his daughter in Huntington Station for the holidays, brought his two grandchildren to play in the children’s section of Book Revue while the adults browsed the aisles.
“This is a great place to come to relax with more selection than a chain store,” Iger said. “It’s a shame there are not more places like this. They seem to be disappearing.”
Other businesses had mixed results with shoppers. At Clipper Ship Tea Shop, Melissa Wawrzonek said Saturday's slightly warmer weather after the two-day arctic blast was bringing more people into the store.
“It’s been a great day and more people like to drink tea in the winter,” she said.
But around the corner, business was slow, said Joe Walsh, 18, who manages the Love Local Homemade Soup Bar and Country Store. The store, reopened Friday after two months of renovations, specializes in Long Island merchandise, soups and homemade cookies, he said.
“Homemade products are good to boost everyone’s business on Long Island and boost the economy for our community,” Walsh said.
In Patchogue, a slow morning picked up around noon, with customers coming into and out of Main Street stores carrying blue-and-white shopping bags with “Shop Small” on the side.
Lori Belmonte, owner of The Colony Shop childrenswear store on East Main Street, had a busy morning. Days before, Belmonte said, her store worked to get the word out through social media and the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce.
Asked whether the event made a difference in sales, Belmonte gestured to the crowd and said, “Absolutely. Just look at the people in the store.”
Cherie Alleyne, co-owner of Blum’s Swimwear and Intimate Apparel, also on East Main, said the event had helped generate more business for her store in years past.
Just as importantly, Alleyne said, it emphasizes the importance of buying local.
“I had one person come in yesterday who even though she bought something she was going to come back again today because she said she wanted to support local business,” Alleyne said. “People are starting to realize how important it is. And doing this helps keep local businesses alive instead of shopping just at the big box stores.”
Susan Brinkman, 50, a lifelong Patchogue resident, was window shopping on East Main Street with her daughters Victoria Brinkman, 17, and Olivia Brinkman, 16. The family had already bought several small gifts to start the day.
Victoria Brinkman said her family had tried shopping at malls on Black Friday, “and it was packed.” She said she enjoyed the less stressful experience on Saturday.
“It’s a lot nicer because you can get a lot of the stuff that you can there here, and it’s just a nicer community and a lot less lines,” she added.
Susan Brinkman purchased a lighthouse print photo and a book during an art sale at The Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts before heading to their favorite clothing store, Say More Boutique on Havens Avenue. Brinkman said she enjoyed the personal attention at local stores.
“It’s just a beautiful community,” Brinkman said. “And it’s great just to be out and about with people, to say hi to people, walk the streets and get a cup of coffee. And we get to know the local merchants too, which is a great relationship to have.”
In Port Jefferson, Main Street merchants witnessed a strong showing of customers all day. Several merchants said they also got a boost with the Saturday shopping event being held in conjunction with the annual Santa Parade, which drew a large crowd to the area.
Sue Hoeffner, owner of Sea Creations in Harbor Square Mall on Main Street, said her store, which sells sea shells and jewelry, had seen a healthy number of customers coming in.
Hoeffner, whose store has been on Main Street for 42 years, said Small Business Saturday had been very helpful in drawing attention to her store and other Main Street shops.
“As store owners, we all try to do something unique [for Small Business Saturday],” said Hoeffner, whose store was handing out gift bags to customers. “Things like that, you’re not going to get at the big box stores. And even just being personal with people is something we offer that they might not get as well somewhere else.”
Kandy Munoz, a Smithtown resident and owner of an olive oil store, The Amazing Olive, said although foot traffic had slowed by about 2 p.m., her store had been “very busy” with a steady stream of customers all morning, many in town for the parade.
“We saw a lot of people come in that wouldn’t have normally come in,” said Munoz, whose store has been on Main Street for seven years.
Brian Viscount and his wife, Christine Viscount, Mount Sinai residents and co-owners of Kilwins chocolate shop on Main Street, said they saw a strong turnout of customers Saturday.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in and ask us questions about how things are made,” said Christine Viscount, about the interaction with customers at the shop, which makes handcrafted chocolate.
Brian Viscount said he believed customers enjoyed being able to interact one-on-one with his staff, who were making peppermint fudge and selling hot chocolate and caramel apples.
“When you’re buying online … you can’t taste it, you can’t touch it,” Viscount said. “Here in Port Jefferson, the community really turns out in force for Small Business Saturday, and they help keep local business going.”
With Daysi Calavia-Robertson and Tory N. Parrish