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Apr 29, 2009 12:25 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Businesses struggle to thrive in bad economy

Apr 29, 2009 12:25 PM

What was once Serendipity, a vibrant salon always with several cars parked out front, is now a vacant brick building along Montauk Highway in East Quogue. The former salon owner, 31-year-old Carli Rodriguez of East Quogue, explained that the failing economy played a significant role in her decision to close shop on April 1, after a five-year-long run in business.

She explained that many of her regular customers—namely women who indulge themselves by paying for highlights and hair dye jobs—have been forced to cut back on such luxuries. “People are going longer between colors, and they’re doing at-home root touch-ups in between,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “They’re stretching it out a little bit.”

Due to her declining clientele, and looking to cut back on her $5,000 monthly operating costs, Ms. Rodriguez said she decided to rent a chair for significantly less money at one of the nearly dozen salons in nearby Hampton Bays, now a common practice in the hairdressing world due to the faltering economy. She currently operates Serendipity inside Capri Salon, which is located at 39 West Montauk Highway, next to Hampton Liggett Drugs.

Unlike many other business owners who are struggling to make ends meet because more customers are pinching their pennies, Ms. Rodriguez said she intends to use her newfound freedom to spend more time with Mateo, her 2-year-old son.

“Every week, I’m less stressed,” said Ms. Rodriguez, noting that she works about 10 fewer hours a week these days. “It’s wonderful.”

But for many other business owners, fewer hours and a drop in customers does not mean good news. To help keep their struggling businesses afloat, many shop owners are tweaking the way in which they conduct business in response to fewer customers and other economic factors.

Other business owners, meanwhile, have had to give up the fight and close shop.

Willy Nilly East, a women’s accessory store formerly located on Jobs Lane in Southampton Village, closed in December following a disappointing 18-month run. The shop owner, Marilyn Schulman, said sales at her store were not meeting her expectations.

She added that she is not certain that her store’s closure hinged entirely upon the faltering economy. “It might have been the wrong store for the town,” Ms. Schulman said.

Willy Nilly East sold Vera Bradley handbags, which feature a paisley print, and Brighton goods, which are distinctive for their metalwork. While both lines are known for their high quality, they are not on the same level as Prada or Gucci, Ms. Schulman explained.

“I don’t know if we were too low-end,” said Ms. Schulman, who still operates the Willy Nilly Trading Co. on West Main Street in Bay Shore.

She explained that she was hoping to attract locals to her Southampton store with the Vera Bradley and Brighton lines—but had been largely unsuccessful. In contrast, Ms. Schulman said that her Bay Shore store has seen a 20 percent spike in sales over the past few months in spite of economic turmoil. Still, the shop owner says that she must run a much tighter ship because the economy leaves little room for waste.

“We’re trying to keep everything under control,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything efficiently.”

To that end, she explained that now she is much more likely to cancel an order if she thinks the items will not sell. She also marks down merchandise on a more timely basis, and watches all expenses more vigilantly. “We want to make sure we’re not caught in a big mess,” Ms. Schulman said.

Willy Nilly East and Serendipity are not the only stores to have closed shop in recent months. The Puppy Experience II, formerly located on the northeast corner of Squiretown Road and Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, closed a few months ago, as did The Men’s Room, a men’s clothing shop on Main Street in the hamlet. A man who answered the phone at The Puppy Experience on Route 25 in Aquebogue, which is owned by the same individual, declined to comment on the reason for the closure of the Hampton Bays puppy store.

Additionally, Sprinkles, a shop that sold baking supplies on Montauk Highway in Speonk, closed earlier this year, as did Intimate Boutique, a fine lingerie store on Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Over in Quogue Village, the Inn Spot, a beloved brunch joint, closed up shop, too.

Ed Kurosz, the vice president of the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce, said that about 10 businesses in downtown Westhampton Beach have either closed or relocated in recent months. Those businesses include Awful Arthur’s Bait Shop. Westhampton Natural Foods, South Fork Mortgage and Bungalow.

In Southampton Village, eight businesses have shuttered their doors on Jobs Lane alone, according to Polly Stevens, co-owner of Stevenson Toys on Jobs Lane. Millie Fellingham, the executive director of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce, did not have immediate information on the number of stores closed along Main Street in Southampton.

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I've always encouraged people to support local business people , NOT the big chains like Walmart and K Mart.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Apr 29, 09 1:58 PM
Jeez....I wonder if these "local hampton businesses" will welcome the "city folks" spending their dirty dollars this summer? Hmmmm.... plus those rotten share house kids.....don't want them spending their $s either to help support local businesses either, right?

Taxi drivers, waitresses, bartenders, stock boys, cashiers, dish washers, and the like....they don't rely on the summer people now, do they for their income?

I'm sure this paper and of course that idiot at Dan's ...more
By BeachQueen (8), Shinnecock Hills on Apr 29, 09 8:31 PM
Beach Queen, where the hell is that coming from? The state of the GLOBAL ECONOMY, is effecting EVERYONE, and has nothing to do with how the locals treat the "city folk". The fact is people have less money to spend due to job and investment losses, which affects local economies everywhere, not just in the hamptons. To say that the local residents are losing their livlihood because they need to be more "friendly" to tourists is quite petty and selfish. Local businesses look forward to the summer ...more
By lol@hb (20), hampton bays on Apr 30, 09 10:20 AM
BTW - I love the satirical pieces in Dan's papers. Lighten up a litte, they're meant to be amusing.
By lol@hb (20), hampton bays on Apr 30, 09 10:24 AM
BeachQueen: Why so angry?? I don't think i hear of any "local business owners" ever complaining about taking money from anyone! What I do hear most people business owner or not have a issue with is the rudeness and sence of entitlement that seems to come alone with being a summer tourist and granted it is not all "city folk' as you put it but a good sum of people who do realize that we need there summer business to make it though out slow winters and they take advantage of that and demand things ...more
By bean143 (1), hampton bays on Apr 30, 09 12:51 PM
Beach Queen, I am a local business owner in SH, where did that comment come from? Wow,
I would like to see some focus on the new businesses in town. I think the Press/27 East does a poor job of getting out the word and supporting those who are starting businesses or expanding in these difficult times. Its easy to jump on the dark and gloomy news but come on, show the good too, be a part of the pro business crowd. Support you local businesses people!!
By RPK (3), Southampton on Apr 30, 09 3:21 PM
As a former retail business owner, I loved the summer people. We kissed butt on a daily basis and dealt with the arrogance. You have to! Sorry to say the locals were the ones that didn't support our business. They went to KMart and Walmart. I would never fault anyone for that, you have to spend whats in your pocket, just the way it is.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on May 2, 09 9:40 AM
1. I am so tired of people suggesting that the east end economy only survives because we are so lucky to have 'city people' visit us. It's simply not true.

2. Half the damn people that live here year round are 'city people', does this not move them into the 'local' bin? In bragging rights, probably not, but by definition of being a home owner and living here year round, absolutely.

3. Beach Queen, I think enough people told you how left-field your comment is. LOL@hb is 100% correct. ...more
By RealLocal (76), Bridgehampton on May 5, 09 5:09 PM
its a good idea that who are struggling to make ends meet because more customers are pinching their pennies.Thanks for the great reading, we buy
gold
bullion in a recession. I will pass this on to our ira clients to read
By goldcoinsgain (2), hyderabad on Oct 27, 09 5:29 AM