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Small Businesses Band Together to Thrive

Local merchants try to stay afloat despite tough economy and big box competition.

The closing of two long-standing businesses in Wyckoff — See U Saturday and StrideRite — has sent shock waves through the small business community.

Both stores were located in Boulder Run and many here had speculated neither would be able to compete against Marshalls, a discount merchandise retail chain that moved into the Franklin Avenue complex in 2011.

“Big name retailers are hurting small businesses,” said Carissa Mulloy, co-owner of Close Knit. “It’s just so sad.”

“You can’t stop people from doing business in town but when it hurts a smaller operation, it might be good for other businesses to help them out,” said Blue Moon restaurant owner Howie Felixbrod, who is also second vice president of the Wyckoff Chamber of Commerce. “These people need somewhere to go for help.”

Still, others believe Stride Rite moved into the Boulder Run shopping center too soon after it was expanded.

“When they moved in, they had tremendous monthly expenses, zero occupancy and no traffic flow,” said Emilio Vitolo, owner of Waldwick Prime Meats. “They were the first ones in and they took a beating before Boulder Run started to thrive.”

Many local merchants say they rely on a few tactics that make them successful in Wyckoff.

One is to create a community of shoppers and allies. The owners of Close Knit say their fiercest competitor is not the Michaels, the nation arts and crafts chain craft store in Paramus. It’s not even online yarn sellers. Rather, it’s another specialty yarn store in Westwood.

And Mulloy cheers that store on as well since it’s good for business.

“We understand it’s not just about the yarn,” explained Mulloy. “We consider ourselves a community.”

For instance Close Knit runs charity knitting projects, knitting classes, and offers one-on-one help to customers having problems with knitting designs or stitches.

Another tactic to survive the floundering economy is to be extremely niche.

“There has to be a reason people go to you,” said Vitolo who brings both traditional butchering and tremendous cooking knowledge to town. “You have to stand out somehow.”

Devon Fine Jewelry owner Nancy Schuring believes excellent service is a large part of the store’s success, along with being in tune with customer wants and needs, especially when in such close proximity to Manhattan.

“Customers are always looking for something new and interesting,” said Schuring. “We have carved our own pathway in the jewelry market. Trying to be different from large retailers is key.”

Felixbrod believes Blue Moon Mexican Cafe provides the town with a niche of an upbeat, casual place to hang out. He also hopes other businesses consider the Chamber an inviting resource.

“We want the Chamber to be a place where small businesses can go for advice [and] advocacy if they are having an issue and if they need help,” he said.

All the businesses contacted by the Patch cited good times and bad times. If business has been slow, Schuring said not to do anything too drastic.

“Be conservative in business practices, especially in rocky times,” said Schuring. “If you are in trouble, seek help from charity or your accountant.”

Vitolo said an optimal business owner has to be well-rounded, not just talented at one craft.

“There are lots of pieces to the puzzle,” said Vitolo who majored in business administration in college. “If behind the scenes, this person is not a good manager, organizer, can’t talk to the customer base, handle stress, be financially responsible…be able to forecast what happens during the year with peaks and lows…they are not going to weather it.”

Mulloy said Close Knit also makes sure to have enough to pay suppliers to build up a good reputation in the business. The store has also been fortunate to specialize in an inexpensive pastime as well, which has helped the store survive the economic downturn.

The Chamber believes sticking together is also helpful. Every business that has opened in Wyckoff has had to undergo the same, complex routine.

“Plans for businesses have to go to the state first and then the town,” said Felixbrod. “If there are any changes it has to be resubmitted to the state and it takes the state two to three weeks to respond each time… If the process was clearer, it would be easier to work around.”

Felixbrod plans to speak about this process, which can take up to two years, at the next chamber meeting scheduled for February 28.

In the end, most believe success is all about focusing on the customer.

“Small businesses by nature are more responsive to customer needs,” said Schuring.

“We are crazy about service,” echoed Felixbrod.

“The service has to be above and beyond,” said Vitolo. “Your reputation is at stake every day you are open. You need to be extremely consistent and persistent.”

Have a question or news tip for Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Maryanne Elsaesser January 28, 2013 at 12:03 PM
We are excited to support you and have new things planned to promote!
Michael Stern January 28, 2013 at 05:59 PM
We always strive to support the local merchants in the area. Several Business owners worked closely together to restore the power during the Sandy aftermath. We combined our efforts and contacted PSEG and discussed our plans for moving forward. There is advantage to working together to reach a common goal, Better Commerce and better Community Service. Its a real shame the Striderite closed their doors. I have purchased all of my Childrens shoes from them.

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