Everyone realizes that Wal-Mart is doing extremely well as a retailer with its profits seemingly recession-proof and growing even stronger in these lean financial times.
Not everyone shops at Wal-Mart, however. For residents within our local river towns, shopping and dining opportunities abound, with diverse selections and personalized service that are the hallmarks of a local business.
At a recent gathering in Irvington, Darci DeMatteo, the Chamber of Commerce President, invited a handful of store owners, a few residents and a property owner to discuss the upcoming holiday season and the prevailing business climate within the Village. From the start of the informal meeting, it was clear that no one was there to gripe or complain, and yet the truth of the dialogue held everyone’s attention.
Patricia Connor lives in Irvington and owns the Perfect Pair. Her store sells women’s and children’s shoes, handbags and accessories. “My job is to do whatever I can to generate business for myself and everybody else within my community,” she said. The business that she and her fellow merchants count on has dwindled of late, with less foot traffic on Main Street and an increase in store closings. “I have had to try harder and harder to bring added value to our shoppers. I know that there isn’t anything I won’t do as a business owner to serve and satisfy a customer,” she said. For Patricia Connor, that customer satisfaction entails wrapping purchases that are gifts, maintaining competitive pricing, and welcoming anyone into her store to browse and become familiar with her merchandise.
Theoni Katsihtis, also an Irvington resident, owns Tra-La-La which sells specialized toys and fine furnishings for children. She has seen peaks and valleys in her 20 years of retail on Main Street, and yet the current times provide little familiarity. “I’ve never seen Main Street so quiet. There are no people on the streets, no cars. I ask myself where is everyone?” she said.
Darci DeMatteo’s Buttermilk Blue Jeans is a women’s and teenager’s boutique. Her other store, Say Cheese & Thank You, specializes in customized invitations and gifts. She said, “We have never had more successful restaurants in our Village and with such a variety.” Theoni Katsihtis agreed that the restaurant business was flourishing in Irvington and clarified that her comment pertained to the retail business. “I have really tried to listen to what my customers want. There is a trend now for smaller items which I had stopped carrying. People are now looking for smaller and different things so we have reinvented ourselves,” she added.
Debra Bernstein, who has a home off Main Street, noted that it is important for residents to support their local businesses. “I know when I come into your stores, it’s warm and friendly and people say hello. I feel very comfortable shopping locally and I always find what I want. I’m not sure, however, why other people are not doing that,” she said. “When I need a gift, it’s around the corner from me.” Darci DeMatteo added that, “One of the things that is so wonderful about Irvington is that you can get most of your needs met here.” She then asked a question that was universally shared by all present… “How do we encourage the rest of the Village, in a time of economic crisis, to continue to shop locally versus going elsewhere?” That encouragement can be found in competitive
pricing and, in some cases, even lower pricing than some larger stores. It also comes in a willingness to please customers by
providing extra attention to detail and a pleasant environment in which to shop.
Bill Thompson, the co-owner of Bridge Street Properties, had a slightly different take on how residents could be enticed to shop locally more often. He felt that building owners should be more aware of their storefronts and the façade of the actual building itself. “I have been in Irvington for 21 years and what I see is sort of a dichotomy. I have never seen so many good stores and, at the same time, I have never seen so many empty stores. We need more good stores. With that we need more merchants to own their own buildings. We have some landlords that just refuse to put money into their buildings so they get run down,” he said. Thompson made another relevant point by saying that more and more people were taking the trains to work in Irvington and that made for less automobile and foot traffic in the Village proper. “People who live north of here always drove. Now they take the train.”
Darci DeMatteo remained positive and felt that by providing great service, good prices and a warm and friendly place to shop, that Irvington merchants could continue to operate sustainable businesses. “I would like everyone to stop before they walk out their door and get in their cars, to ask themselves can I get this in Irvington?” A simple enough request and one which Irvington residents can answer through increased support of restaurants and businesses that make up the historic river town. It’s simply another side of the motto, “Lucky to be in Irvington.”