It was a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah for local small business owners, who are reporting robust sales numbers despite an influx of chain stores and big box retailers in the area.
Items flew off the shelves at family owned shops around the neighborhood, with proprietors like Jennifer Baron of on Atlantic Avenue sometimes struggling to keep up with demand.
“We pretty much sold everything we have,” Baron said. “[People started] coming in three weeks ago.”
Other local merchants agreed that holiday business was as good as it was before the recession—if not better.
“I heard a rumor that this Christmas season was the most lucrative ever, in the 30 years this store has been open,” said Molly, an assistant manager at on Court Street, who declined to give her last name. “The day before Christmas Eve, you could barely walk through the aisles”.
The owners of several other stores—including , , , and —also reported strong sales this holiday season. Each expressed optimism that the good times would stretch into the new year and beyond.
One reason for their high hopes is the belief that, instead of siphoning off demand, the influx of chain stores has helped small businesses by bringing new customers to the area. owner Charlie Sahadi said that having down the street actually increases demand for his products.
“[Sahadi's has] always been a destination, but not on that scale, so you’re hoping that the exposure will help you pick up some of the new customers,” he said. "Out of the 3000 items that Trader Joe's carries and the 3000 items that we carry, there are only 100-150 in common. My draw is different than their draw."
As for losing their existing customers to chain stores, the merchants aren’t worried—Brooklyn shoppers are too loyal and too appreciative of the local shopping experience.
“People in this neighborhood like to come in and talk about books,” said Molly at BookCourt. “There’s something to be said about immediate satisfaction and talking to people who are knowledgeable.”
Baron agreed that the human touch is what keeps people coming back to her cookware store.
“How are you going to buy knives online?” she said. “You can’t lift them, touch them, listen to people’s advice. Maybe that’s worth an extra five dollars.”
There is no doubt most residents of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens will always prefer to frequent local shops than faceless chains, even if it costs a little extra. Yet local businesses still face a number of challenges.
Frank Caputo, owner of Court Street mainstay , pointed out that rising costs present a much bigger challenge to area shops than increased competition. Caputo is lucky enough to own the building that houses his store, meaning that he doesn’t have to pay rent. Many small business owners in the area aren't so fortunate.
Besides, he does have to pay utilities and insurance.
“The costs go up but I can’t raise the prices, or else people won’t buy as much,” he said. “Utilities are a killer.”