Business leaders promote their downtowns during ‘Shop Small’ season

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By Dan Sears

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Picture this. You’re at A Book Place Boutique in Riverhead, and amid the books, you see it: A hand-painted denim jacket that is almost perfect for that special someone on your holiday list, if only the garment were available in other colors. This is the type of scenario where shop owner Jocelyn Kaleita would contact the artist about creating your vision.

“We’ll do a special order to get exactly what you want,” Kaleita said.

Jocelyn Kaleita provides special orders, aiming to give shoppers exactly what they want. Courtesy of A Book Place Boutique
Jocelyn Kaleita provides special orders, aiming to give shoppers exactly what they want. Courtesy of A Book Place Boutique

Small business owners like Kaleita aim to go the distance with personalized service to wow their clients, so they return and help their Main Streets thrive. On the East End, that holiday spirit is matched by the Downtown Riverhead Business Improvement District, as it promotes the local Lion’s Club annual holiday bonfire and parade on Dec. 9. That’s when there will be a chance to pose with Santa inside a gingerbread house. And the month will be filled with a tree lighting, caroling, and a holiday market as well as holiday performances at The Suffolk.

Such synergy is occurring across Long Island, with tree and menorah lightings, and where small businesses and chambers of commerce have transformed “Small Business Saturday” to “Small Business Season.” In the process, these business leaders point out that by supporting the region’s small, local businesses, consumers are strengthening the region’s economy.

This year’s shop local push is “not just about Small Business Saturday–it’s much beyond that,” Eric Alexander, the founder of the LI Main Street Alliance, said at a press conference in downtown Farmingdale last week. “We hope this year will be our biggest year yet,” he said.

ERIC ALEXANDER: ‘If you want to see your Main Street business stay there, you’ve got to patronize it.’ Courtesy of LI Main Street Alliance
ERIC ALEXANDER: ‘If you want to see your Main Street business stay there, you’ve got to patronize it.’ Courtesy of LI Main Street Alliance

Alexander stood with chamber of commerce leaders from across Long Island to announce special events and offers in communities throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. Leaders included those from the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers and the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.

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The initiative comes at a time when $0.68 of every dollar spent at a small business in the United States stays in the local community, according to a 2022 study from American Express. That same study revealed that every dollar spent at small businesses creates an additional $0.48 in local business activity because of employees and local businesses purchasing local goods and services.

Yet, “one day of shopping local is not enough to support small businesses,” said Joe Garcia, president of the Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce.

These are the retailers that “sponsor your Little Leagues, that sponsor your school events,” he said, adding that when “money stays in the local economy, it allows the region to grow.”

This year’s shop-local push comes as businesses may be struggling, as the
region comes out of COVID, Garcia said. “Businesses are still paying back pandemic-related SBA loans,” he said. “The more we shop local this small business season, the better everyone will do.”

Julie Marchesella, president of the
Elmont Chamber of Commerce, shared that sentiment.

Port Holiday Magic includes a visit from a trio of ‘toy’ soldiers at S.F. Falconer Florist in Port Washington. Photo by Debbie Greco-Cohen
Port Holiday Magic includes a visit from a trio of ‘toy’ soldiers at S.F. Falconer Florist in Port Washington. Photo by Debbie Greco-Cohen

“All of your small business owners need your support year round,” she said. “It’s not just at holiday time.”

Many of Long Island’s downtowns are holiday destinations. For example, in Port Jefferson Village, the Annual Charles Dickens Festival runs Dec. 2-3. During the weekend, volunteers, dressed as Dickens-era characters, will perform vignettes outdoors from the author’s works. There will be parades as well as carriage and trolley rides.

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Trolley rides will be provided in Port Washington as well as during its “Holiday Magic” event, ferrying shoppers along Main Street. Holly Byrne, executive director of the Port Washington Business Improvement District, said that this year instead of one day of Port’s Holiday Magic, the community was holding three, including on Dec. 2, where businesses pair with charities and collect donations, and on Dec. 9, with a dog walk on Main Street, where there will also be a window display competition.

Bob Fonti, co-chair of the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers, pointed out that shopping local “keeps businesses alive,” adding that “there’s a multiple bounce back” for every dollar spent in the community.

For shoppers, local downtowns offer the chance to experience cultures from around the world.

In Great Neck, for instance, there is “a lot of diversity, a lot of different ways to celebrate,” said Lawrence Lin, president of the Long Island Chinese Business Owners Association, and who serves on the board of directors of the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce. “There are different flavors and different apparel that’s very much embodied in Great Neck” with “Persian, Chinese and other ethnicities.”

For many business owners, holiday season is a time to give back.

Restaurateur Ivan Sayles, for instance, said his Rockville Centre-based Nosh on the Park, is donating 20% of its proceeds to Betthany House, which supports women and women with children who are experiencing homelessness as they transition to stability.

Lisa Dellipizzi, owner of Lisa DP Real Estate, and the president of the Franklin Square Chamber of Commerce, said she was spending three days donating food to the pantry at St. Catherine of Sienna Parish.

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In the case of A Book Place, Kaleita is also supporting local artists by providing an outlet in which to sell their wares and build a following. And when it comes to giving back, Kaleita has donated about 2,000 items this year to support local teams and causes.

With tenacity, small businesses are developing alliances and giving shoppers reason to return again and again.

“Small businesses don’t have a backup plan,” said Harry Malhortra, director of minority business and development from the Town of Oyster Bay. “They only have one plan: to move forward.”

LI Main Street Alliance has assembled a comprehensive list of all the events happening across Long Island [http://63.135.124.150/smart_talk/Downtowns/Shop_Local_2023_SB_Season_Downtown_Events.pdf].

“We need to lock arms and keep our dollars here,” Alexander said. “If you want to see your Main Street business stay there, you’ve got to patronize it. I think people are doing that, but you have to make that extra push. Local chambers have given every creative way for people to come downtown.”

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