How’s business?

Photo of Suzanne Wald-Balsamo by Dion Ogust

Christmas is in the rear-view mirror, and the post-yuletide sales are wrapping up, too. So how did businesses in Saugerties do this year? Is the economy rebounding or was 2011 tougher for local retailers than 2010? Did the “buy local” trend spurred by the Occupy movement gain any traction on Partition or Main streets? The answers to those questions depend upon who you ask.

There were some stores where things were markedly different this year than in years past. Take Dig, for example. Last Christmas, Dig was still primarily known as a women’s boutique. But in 2010, the shop – owned by Van and Daisy Bolle – decided to expand its customer base by adding men’s fashion and home goods.

“We tripled our audience,” said Daisy Bolle.

There was also a concerted effort to offer options that might catch the eye of people who might have needed a bit of help in figuring out just what to buy as a gift.

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“We had a lot more gifty-type items this year,” Bolle said. “Clothes can sometimes be hard to buy for others, and people don’t always want to buy jewelry. But people love the home section. This was the first time we really had easy gifts you could buy your boss or your sister.”

Gearing gifts toward the season doesn’t hurt either. At Lucky Chocolates, that meant Christmas-themed truffles like eggnog, candy canes and gingerbread, as well as chocolate Santa Clauses and snowmen. It was the third Christmas in the village for Lucky, and owner Rae Stang said it was a good one.

“We were very busy,” Stang said, noting that the free chocolate fountain during the annual Holiday in the Village celebration was a hit. “The store was basically a line of people trying to get to the chocolate fountain. It was a very busy day, mostly for the free giveaway part of it.”

But seasonal offerings can be something of a two-way street, meaning it’s vital to keep an eye on your inventory.

“After Christmas, nobody wants eggnog,” Stang said. “It’s like Christmas music; you love to listen to it, but the minute Christmas is over you don’t want to hear it again for another year.”

Another business that does well by observing seasonal and holiday changes is A Country Store. Located on 9W beyond most village foot traffic, the craft-based shop features work designed by Pat Walsh in a quaint shop also run by his wife, Terri. She said the holiday items often serve as a means of bringing people in where they can see other handmade pieces.

“We try to draw people in by making things for outside based on the season,” said Terri Walsh. “And once they come in, they see cabinets and other things he makes and they’re in awe of the low prices. This year, he made seasonal life-size wooden snowmen, and people come for miles for those.”

But even for a business that makes most of its sales on custom-made work, there are still opportunities for post-holiday bargain hunters to get an even better deal.

“We had a pretty decent season,” Walsh said. “My husband makes most of the stuff he sells, and his prices are already dirt cheap. But after Christmas, we mark things down drastically.”

Jordan Balsamo of Partition Street Wine Shop said 2011 was a good year overall. After a slow spring, the summer was solid and, unlike in years past, sales were strong throughout fall.

“We fared better than we expected,” said Balsamo. “We had to hire some people to be in the store with us. It’s usually just me and my wife and we have someone come in to work extra for events, or so my wife and I can have a night off together. But we hired more people because we were so busy. We actually had four people in the store at a time.”

But what about businesses who ply their trade on goods that don’t ordinarily have a natural affiliation with Christmas and cold weather? Such is the case of Revolution Bicycles, the village-based bike shop that’s been in its Main Street location for nearly three years. In addition to selling bicycles and associated accessories and equipment, Revolution does refurbishments and repairs. They also rent bicycles.

“Winter is never a great time for bike shops, but we work hard and put our energy into finding ways to draw in customers year round,” said Samantha Moranville, who co-owns Revolution with Steve Leibowitz. “The mild weather has been a big help. Black Friday was an oddly successful day, not because of holiday shopping, but it was warm. And lots of people wanted to go for bike rides. That was great.”

Like Dig, Revolution expanded their reach this year by expanding their BMX department, which appealed to kids and those who buy for them. Though Moranville noted that brick-and-mortar retailers often face an unfair disadvantage against online sellers because of the sales tax issue, they still did better than in 2010.

“The beginning of December had us concerned because business was much slower than we expected,” she said. “But we recovered in the final 10 days. Christmas Eve was a fun day in the shop. Lots of parents bought bikes and stored them here to keep the element of surprise. So that morning we had them all lined up and ready to go and it was exciting to see happy parents rushing in with plans of where to hide them the final hours.”

The shop also did well in small cycling accessories and gift certificates, Moranville added. She also said Revolution tends to do well after the holidays.

“The days right after Christmas are usually pretty good,” she said. “Lots of people sort of pre-shop in our store for themselves, then get Christmas money and rush right in to spend it.”

 

Shop local consciousness

“There’s a very big ‘shop local’ movement going on, and we see it,” said Bolle of Dig. “The customers really want to support us. We’re in their town, we’re a small family business and they like to support that. They know that their money is going to be going to a kid’s college education someday instead of some big corporate entity. And people didn’t just want to shop local, but they came in and said, ‘Who are your local designers?’ They wanted to buy locally made jewelry or locally made dresses.”

Stang agreed.

“A lot of people I know were trying to do all their shopping locally,” she said. “I did. The only time I go someplace like the mall is if I want to buy electronic things.”

But if Main Street saw a boost in local business this year, it might not have extended to Ulster Avenue. Tastefully Tacky, a handmade shop, sits across the street from Price Chopper. It’s not a bad location for being noticed, but co-owner Jennie Gelfand noted that they don’t get much in the way of foot traffic.

“Our studios are there, and that’s why we have the shop there,” Gelfand said. Like many retail businesses, the end of the year is the busy season for Tastefully Tacky, though Gelfand said they make most of their money at craft shows.

“We start with the Garlic Festival, and then continue with craft shows through December,” she said.

Unlike some of her fellow local businesses, Gelfand said she thought people were still being cautious with their holiday gift buying.

“I think we did around the same as last year and maybe a little slower,” she said. “I don’t see people spending the way they used to spend. Spring was kind of slow, and it was slow for everybody in the village. But summer was solid and it carried over.”

She continued, “There’s usually a lull in mid-September, but that didn’t happen this year. People were going to friend’s houses for dinner parties and socializing; there was a lot of that. No one mentioned Occupy Wall Street directly, but we did have a lot more people come in spending money in the village, and a lot more of them were spending cash, which is something I appreciate because the credit card company takes three points off the top of any sale.”

 

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