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Monday, December 23, 2013

Mom-and-Pops Hope for Last Minute Shoppers

By James Lomuscio

Westport’s mom-and-pop retailers say December sales haven’t been as stellar as they had hoped, and they are banking on last minute shoppers in the final countdown to Christmas on Wednesday.

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Today’s rain impacted Westport Main Street shopping. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“We never know until the final hour,” said Marilyn Lipton-Blotner, owner of Soleil Etoile, a lingerie and swimwear shop at 14 Post Road East. “A lot of customers are last minute shoppers.

“It’s been a slow start,” she added. “This is always when we see the biggest numbers. You’re always questioning if you’re going to meet your numbers until now.”

Steve Silver, owner of the specialty gift shop Silver of Westport at 390 Post Road East, agreed, “you go down to the final days every year, and the double snow we had this year didn’t help.”

“The thing is, if people want local shops, they have to support them,” said Silver, adding that his store that has been in town since 1951 would be open until 5:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. “It’s our responsibility to get them in here.”

At the same time, he said, online shopping has hurt mom-and-pop retailers.

“They are just staying at home and going to Amazon,” Silver said. “Busy people not wanting to go shopping is the issue.”

Last minute shoppers aside, Dina Berger, who for 30 years has owned Age of Reason, a science toy and education store at 19 Post Road West, agreed Internet shopping has hurt walk-in sales.

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Steve Silver: “There are so many factors that affect shopping, but you’re not going to find uniqueness online.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“This whole year has been very challenging since more people have been shopping online,” she said. “I won’t even look at my numbers until the end of the year, but my feeling is that we’re down.”

Berger insists that not every interesting gift she features is available online.

“Some people come in and say, ‘I wouldn’t have even known to look for this,’” she said.

Still she said there are those who use her store for “showrooming,” a practice whereby would be shoppers take a picture of an item with their phones and try to ferret it out for less online.

“I think we’re going to see changes, ” Berger said. “The whole shopping activity will change.”

Silver agreed that showrooming is a major problem. He noted that a customer came in looking at a Swiss Army knife on sale for $99 and later said he could find it online for $66. Silver said it was a huge discount he could not meet.

If such practices continue, he said, “soon there will be no more showrooms.’

What customers have to realize, Silver stressed, is that seeing a flat picture online is not the same as seeing an item up close.

“There are so many factors that affect shopping, but you’re not going to find uniqueness online,” he said.

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Lida Ghiorzi: “You have no idea what will happen until the last few days.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Shirley Mellor, owner of Max’s Art Supplies, a 57-year-old shop located at 68 Post Road East, noted that even her store has been affected by online shopping and people looking for bargains.

“I think, generally speaking, all retail is slow, and all retail is challenged by the Internet,” Mellor said. “We’re definitely affected by it.

“We’ll see,” she added. “We have a good day, and we have a bad day. I can’t tell you if it’s better than last year. If we can pay our bills, it’s good.”

At Silver Ribbon, a jewelry store at 1240 Post Road East, owner Lida Ghiorzi agreed, “you have no idea what will happen until the last few days.”

“November was wonderful, but December was a little slow, and we felt a lot of it had to do with the snow storms, but we’ll just see what happens,” said Ghorzi, whose shop specializes on American designers, offering jewelry items from a low of $78 to custom items costing thousands.

She said price diversity will remain the store’s selling point as the clock ticks toward Christmas.

“We could do a custom ring for $2,000 or a bracelet for $20,” she said.

Ghiorzi, for one, says she is not going to be outdone by showrooming, despite the fact that she sometimes sees prospective customers whipping out their iPhones.

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Shirley Mellor: “We have a good day, and we have a bad day. I can’t tell you if it’s better than last year. If we can pay our bills, it’s good.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“I’m not going to be selling things that you can get for less on the Internet,” she said.

Ghorzi added that she typically sells items between 20 to 30 percent less “than department store prices.”

Despite less than exuberant reports, Deborah Kondub, who opened Artemis, a combination jewelry store, boutique and pop-up art gallery in September 2012, remains bullish about this year’s numbers.

Last year was bad, she said, having opened up around the time Storm Sandy hit, making shoppers cautious throughout the season.

“So I’m doing a thousand times better because people know I’m here,” she said.

One mom-and-pop retailer who insists this year’s sales will eclipse 2012’s is Richard Falcone, owner of Art’s Deli at 13 Post Road West.

Last year was tough, he said, as Storm Sandy water damaged his inventory featuring Italian food gifts, as well as deli food to go.

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Lee Papageorge: “We’re seeing a lot of traffic, and we’re selling more gift certificates than ever, so things are good.”  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“We’ve been doing a lot of gift baskets and a lot of catering,” said Falcone, touting Italian gift baskets of cheese, olive oils, cracker and olives. “So far so good, and I’ve got to thank God.”

Lee Papageorge, owner of Oscar’s Deli at 159 Main St., echoed Falcone’s sentiments.

“We’re seeing a lot of traffic, and we’re selling more gift certificates than ever, so things are good,” he said.

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Posted 12/23/13 at 08:26 PM  Permalink



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