Small Business Saturday Does Little for Upper West Side Merchants
By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Small businesses in the heart of the Upper West Side's shopping district say they need help — but they didn't get it from Small Business Saturday.
The marketing campaign was touted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and American Express as the mom-and-pop alternative to Black Friday, but retailers along Columbus Avenue said they either hadn't heard of the program or didn't find out about it until the last minute.
"I saw a billboard for it and I was like, they should really advertise this more," said Matt Reich, a manager at Frank Stella mens clothiers on Columbus Avenue and West 81st Street.
"We're a small business and no one told me about it," Reich said. "It seems like it was more for American Express than anything else."
Reich said with more advance notice, his store would probably have participated in the program.
The campaign, advertised on television and online, encouraged shoppers to spend post-Thanksgiving dollars in neighborhood stores. But instead of suggesting local stores to visit, the website told consumers to "join the movement" by clicking "like" on a Facebook page.
At Mint, a Columbus Avenue women's clothing boutique, manager Katrina Aronson said she'd seen ads for the initiative on TV, but hadn't heard anything else about it.
Other Columbus Avenue small businesses, including Schweitzer Linens, West Side Wine, Quality Florist and Antique Boutique, told DNAinfo they'd never heard of the campaign.
But many said Small Business Saturday sounded like a good idea, especially on the Upper West Side, where longtime mom and pop stores increasingly fight to hold on in the face of competition from chain stores and online businesses.
City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, recently held a roundtable discussion about the struggles of neighborhood businesses. Many said they felt squeezed by landlords who charge high rents and prefer to lease to chain stores.
Beth Scholten, owner of the Down Quilt Shop on Columbus Avenue and West 85th Street, falls into that category. She said Saturday she "squeaks out" her rent every month. She used to employ three or four workers, but now mostly runs the store on her own, Scholten said.
She said she heard about Small Business Saturday on Saturday morning when she glanced at a headline on AOL.com and then heard a radio story about it.
Scholten said the campaign sounded like a good idea, but she hadn't noticed any extra foot traffic as a result.
"Anything is good that gets the word out (about small businesses)," Scholten said. "We're a dying breed of mom and pop stores. People want us to be here, but they don't realize what they're doing when they punch a button and buy something online in the middle of the night at their house."