Spring ahead or Fall back, Residents Reflect on Economic Times

You can’t turn on the television or read a newspaper without hearing about the economy. The U.S. Department of Labor reports an increase by 850,000 in the number of unemployed persons in February, raising the count to 12.5 million. The unemployment rate rose from 7.6% to 8.1% that same month. The current recession is being called the longest in 25 years.

So what does all this mean in Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow" River Journal took to the streets in all three Villages in an effort to find out.

For some, the current economic reality means business as usual. Joseph Staffiera, of Irvington, says there have been no problems for him so far. "A lot of people are having a tough time, I know that," he says, but, "If you’re around long enough it’ll come back." Staffiera grew up during the Great Depression. He remembers his father going out and looking for work. It didn’t mean much to him, the Depression. He was only a kid. His father always managed to get something, though they did eat a lot of jelly sandwiches when he had difficulties feeding his family.

Staffiera says he hasn’t felt the current economic situation yet. "I’m sure I will," he says. "It has cut into my 401(K), that’s for sure. Especially since the first of the year it’s dropped down 30%."

But he does have retirement. "I worked for the telephone company," he says. "I get pension from them. I collect Social Security. My wife also worked for the telephone company, she gets Social Security and pension. So far, we’re fine."

Others aren’t so lucky. Richard Ramirez, of Sleepy Hollow, is unemployed. "It’s messed up," he says. "There are no jobs, everybody’s struggling. I can’t find a job. It’s tough especially for poor people. It’s hard living."

Business owners are also dealing with the situation.

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Top: Rodney Rodriquez, Sleepy Hollow: "What Beekman Avenue meeds is for more merchants and building owners to take advantage of the block grants available to fix up their storefronts."
Middle: Darci DeMatteo, Irvington: "The good news is that despite how grim the economy looks there is a large group of people in Irvington looking to support local businesses"
Bottom: Michael Cain, Irvington: "Once the rebuilding really starts it will be a much better time for people because of jobs opening up."

Rodney Rodriguez has been a property owner and businessman in Sleepy Hollow since 1976. He owns The Village Wine & Spirit Shoppe on Beekman Avenue. "After General Motors closed years ago, I would say that business in this Village went down by 50%. At the same time our taxes started to rise and have doubled since the late 1980’s," he said. The customers that have remained loyal are buying selectively these days and are price conscious as well. "What Beekman Avenue needs is for more merchants and building owners to take advantage of the block grants available to fix up their storefronts," he added. "We’re all waiting like everyone else to see if this situation turns around and when."

Peter Khamashta can’t and won’t wait. He had formerly owned the Bargain Buster store on the corner of Beekman Avenue and Pocantico Street. "Business in this Village is very bad," he said. He has found the local government and various Village Boards to be slow moving or immovable with regards to issuing special permits. In his case a special permit would have allowed him to display merchandise in front of his store. "You would think the Village would welcome the extra money they get from special permits and licensing revenue. But it is the opposite. They have not supported the local business community and don’t seem interested in attracting shoppers." He will shortly be moving his business to Yonkers where he has received a tax break and has been welcomed by local officials.

Nick Penwar, owner of Rashmi Enterprise in Sleepy Hollow, says business is poor. His store sells a variety of items including cigarettes, soda and papers. "We’ve been here for the last 10 years," he says. "I have never seen it this low. I’ve seen it down but not like this. We were making a living, but not right now. We don’t even make the expenses so it’s difficult." He doesn’t know how long it will take before business picks up again. "Maybe two months, five months, six months, a whole year. Nobody knows. But we hope for the best and hope that we will be out of this very soon."

For Irvington’s Darci De Matteo whose Buttermilk Blue Jeans store closed at the end of March, business means dedication. She still owns Say Cheese & Thank You specializing in photography and unique stationery items. "I was just asked by the Mayor to join the new Business Improvement Committee. The good news is that despite how grim the economy looks there is a large group of people in Irvington looking to support local businesses," she said. According to her Irvington is a vital Village with a great library, the Town Hall Theatre and a Recreation Center." The economy is on everyone’s minds and we had the largest turnout in a long time at our recent Chamber of Commerce meeting."

Irvington’s Sunnyside Flower Shop isn’t as full of flowers and plants as usual, although they still are ordering. "On a day-to-day basis, it’s quieter," says Willo, the owner of Sunnyside Flower Shop. "The everyday traffic is quieter, no doubt about that. When people do come in, they still buy impulsively, but there are less of them. However, when the weather is lovely outside they’re all out. But until the warm weather comes it’s hard to tell."

David Leggio has similar feelings about the impending warm weather. He’s owns Lubins & Links on Main Street in Tarrytown which opened several months ago. He sells hotdogs and other sandwiches and feels optimistic about the future. "We had a good day [last] Saturday and Sunday with the warm weather," he says. "It’s encouraging. We’re doing what we thought we were going to do here. Without the walk-in traffic in winter it’s going to be slow but we’re just starting out. We thought it would be a good time to get going and try it and get ready for the busier season. Hopefully when the streets start filling up it should be good."

Leggio says his shop has provided a niche for itself by offering recession-friendly prices. One of their sandwiches, the Lubin, and a can of soda only cost about five dollars. There is little he would change with his business. The area is small, but he would rather have a small space than a larger one with tables. It would mean a higher overhead. "Luckily we’re very small and not a lot of overhead so we’re able to go forward with the new," he said.

Employees are also affected by the recession. Marcus Wright of Sleepy Hollow and Hannah Sabour of Irvington are both employed: Wright in construction, and Sabour with a local tailor. Wright has had his job for a few years. "It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Hopefully Barack can make a change," he says.

Sabour used to work all week, she says. Now, she works three days a week. "It’s not like before," she says of business. "I have no idea how it’s going to be and nobody knows of course. It’s kind of scary. We’ll survive anyway."

But not everyone has a bleak outlook. Star Jewelry in Tarrytown hasn’t had the business they’ve had in the past, but business is still good. "I have a good clientele and my stuff is a pretty good price," the owner Mirtila Zambrano says. She doesn’t have the same worries as other business owners because her business hasn’t changed. "I’ve been very blessed," she says.

For a lot of people, though, there has been a change in the way they lived before. "I’m watching what I spend a lot more, making sure I stick to the budget," says Michael Cain of Irvington. "I think for us it’s pretty much the same as for a lot of people. We’re fine for the moment but who knows. You don’t know how long it’s going to last. A few months ago we thought we’d all be good. Once the rebuilding really starts it will be a much better time for people because of jobs opening up. Until then, we’re running around."

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