A pandemic bike boom sparked sales growth for Danny’s Cycles and other stores. Photo by Manuel Garcia
After the pandemic turned the state of retail upside-down, the county’s stores changed the way they do business to adapt and innovate.
The region’s retailers doing business in the post-pandemic retail sector are perfect examples of the old adage: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” At least they hope they are, and they’re doing everything in their power to make it so. Common sense tells us that the pandemic was hellish on the retail landscape, and facts bear it out. There were 30 pandemic-influenced bankruptcies of major retailers last year, according to Coresight Research. These included GNC, Pier 1 Imports, Men’s Wearhouse, Brooks Brothers, and Lord & Taylor, all of which closed area locations last year. All in all, more than 8,000 storefronts closed in 2020, according to estimates.
Defying national retail trends, Target, the nation’s second-largest retailer, signed a 40-year lease for 132,000 square feet of the former Sears space at Cross County Center in Yonkers. The center refers to it as “one of the largest leases signed nationwide” during the pandemic. Construction is underway, and Target is anticipated to open in mid-2022.
There are numerous positive signs that the retail recovery is well on its way. One example is RIPCO Real Estate which has recently brokered 11 retail leasing deals totaling more than 25,000 square feet in Westchester and Fairfield counties. The deals include Ali Weiss Jewels, and Bottomline Blinds in Armonk, Yoga Six in Eastchester, and Timothy Tyler Hair in Mount Kisco.
“Westchester and Fairfield counties have seen a great retail rebound, as brands follow consumers flocking to these regions, seeking less density and more space,” says RIPCO broker Lisa Daniel. “As the economy recovers and while interest rates remain low, these regions will keep steadily growing.”
At the beginning of the pandemic last year, most stores shut down for two or three months, following CDC guidelines. Once reopened, stores and operators responded with safety measures and often with cost-cutting actions, such as furloughs, shorter operating hours, and tighter inventory.
Obviously the first and biggest concerns for retailers surrounded safety. Local grocery chain DeCicco’s pivoted and changed its business model with an emphasis on precautions.
“We invested heavily in safety protocols to keep our team members safe and to provide our customers a safe shopping experience,” said Chris DeCicco, vice president and co-owner. The company assigned door guardians to limit the occupancy of the stores to 40% and provided gloves and masks for customers before entering the stores. A professional cleaning service sanitized stores each night, and exclusive hours were provided for seniors.
Upon reopening, savvy retailers instituted curbside pickup. Like to-go ordering at restaurants, curbside retail became the norm as customers looked to avoid the indoors and crowds.
Many retailers at Cross County Center utilized curbside pickup through the pandemic. The amenity was helpful while there were limited capacities allowed inside but also made shoppers feel more safe and secure, not being exposed to crowds, according to Liz Pollack, senior manager, marketing, Marx Realty, which manages the center.
“Curbside pickup continues to benefit shoppers,” Pollack says. “It’s convenient and even encourages more shopping trips because it’s so easy.”
While The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville was closed for browsing from mid-March to mid-June last year, the shop served the community via a curbside pickup table and offered complimentary delivery for orders over $25 within a 10-mile radius. Through the summer, the shop teamed with other local booksellers to deliver close to 1,000 books to hundreds of homes.
“Our customers shared that they were reading much more,” says Jennifer Kohn, owner of The Village Bookstore. “They turned to the comforts of reading for a much-needed escape during a stressful time.”
The shop reopened with restrictions in place, like limiting the number of people in the store, plus it sanitized the store each evening. It furloughed several staff members and has since reduced its staff from seven to five people. It also reduced its operating hours on both weekdays and weekends. The shop is looking forward to more foot traffic with the reopening of Jacob Burns Film Center, which is located across the street.
Curbside service proved to be a godsend for Danny’s Cycles, which has four locations in Westchester County, plus two in Connecticut. Like most local retailers, Danny’s Cycles headed into the pandemic with serious trepidation.
“We were initially told that we were going to have to close, like other businesses, and then we learned that we were classified as transportation and essential,” says owner Steve Kahn. “So, we had a little bit of a roller-coaster ride. And then, we didn’t know what to expect. Would we be busy? Not busy?”
To his surprise, the company experienced a boost in sales compared with the previous year, which Kahn describes as “a bit of a bike boom,” as people headed to the outdoors. Customers purchased the bikes online, a new trend for the shop, and they picked up their bikes curbside. The company also delivers.
With the company’s bonus and profit-sharing plans, Kahn says the vast majority of his staff made more money than they had in previous years. “We hired new people too,” he says.
Also new for Danny’s Cycles are the electric scooters that have joined its product roster. “Scooters are a trend now, and I think they’ll do well in our area,” Kahn says. “People are going back to work, and they can ride a scooter to the train station, plus they want to avoid subways.”
The great outdoors provided a spark and an inspiration for Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers too. Outdoor-oriented retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and L.L. Bean, saw bumps in sales, according to Meghann Hongach, marketing director for CBRE, which manages the property.
“Westchester and Fairfield counties have seen a great retail rebound.. As the economy recovers and while interest rates remain low, these regions will keep steadily growing.”
—Lisa Daniel Broker, RIPCO Real Estate
Taking advantage of its outdoor environment, Ridge Hill teamed with ArtsWestchester to add colorful banners and five large-scale murals by local artists and created a Mural Mile walking path. A couple of blocks of streets were converted to pedestrian-only areas, and bistro seating and umbrella tables were added. More than 100,000 flower bulbs were planted last fall.
“The pandemic really made us embrace our outdoor environment,” Hongach says. “Being an outdoor shopping center, we enjoy the fresh air here up on the hill. It’s an incredible asset for us.”
Continuing the outdoors theme, Ridge Hill has launched weekly farmers’ and artists’ markets, plus outdoor music performances. Also, construction is expected to start soon for Hapik, a 6,000 sq. ft. rock-climbing experience. It’s the second U.S. and first New York location for the French brand.
The outdoor setting is also a big draw at Cross County Center. The shopping destination has added new lounge furniture to its plethora of green space in time for Summer Fest, its seasonal lineup of outdoor entertainment, which includes fitness classes, concerts, street performers, and other family activities.
In the past few months, retail activity at Cross County Center includes the opening of Mito Asian Fusion, a sushi-and-hibachi restaurant, as well as Carvel and Click Fashions. H&M reopened mid-April, after being closed for several months while it underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation. Express, a longtime retailer at Cross County Center, recently renewed its lease and will soon undergo a major renovation, as well.
In Peekskill, when consumers finally turned out from quarantine, they discovered a new, hip, lifestyle store named Bucko! open downtown.
“We had been planning a clothing/home-goods store with a coffee-counter concept for several years,” says Brian Orsi, who owns and operates Bucko! with wife Katie. “When the space adjacent to the Peekskill Coffee House opened, it made sense to scrap the coffee counter and go after one of the most prominent storefronts in Peekskill.”
Orsi says opening in November was “partially by necessity, partially by design. Our goal was to jump-start things by tapping into the holiday season. It worked very well and got us through the very, very slow winter months in the new year.”
Foot traffic has started to pick up at the store, and the Orsis are gauging what shoppers are looking for in what is being referred to as “the new normal.” Posting on its social accounts and interacting with the community has been vital.
“From the get go, one of our goals for Bucko! was to create community,” Orsi says. “COVID restrictions easing is making that a lot more possible. There’s beer in the fridge and coffee close by, and I think people will start hanging out more. We’ve got some events and get-togethers in the works.”
The importance of social media and online sales have been the big post-pandemic takeaways for LOLA New York, a fashion boutique with locations in White Plains and Tuckahoe. The company employs a social media director, Nicolle Cannone, who runs the company’s online shop and all of its social platforms and marketing. Cannone sends out a newsletter to customers multiple times a week to inform them of new merchandise and sales.
“The shutdown confirmed what we already knew, which is the importance of an online presence,” says LOLA co-owner Denise Elias. “Our online shop kept our current customers engaged with us and even brought us new customers from all over the United States.”
While online sales kept the company going through the pandemic, traffic in the store is returning to normal, and fashion choices are evolving from loungewear to clothes for going out. “The stores have been very busy,” Elias says. “We are noticing more people coming in, customers who were cautious before are now returning to in-store shopping.”
“The shutdown confirmed what we already knew, which is the importance of an online presence.”
—Denise Elias Co-owner, LOLA New York
Sophia Karipides, owner of Fofie & Mia’s, a home-furnishings store in Larchmont featuring on-trend vintage and handmade furniture, said the business has bounced back since the pandemic. She says the store benefited from a trend of consumers focusing more on their homes.
“People sought to do home improvement to their homes in all areas, including accessories, furniture, and even built-ins,” said Karipides. “Since everyone was in quarantine, they spent more time at home and wanted to improve their spaces, especially work areas such as built-in desks.”
Karipides says the major takeaway from the pandemic is that people want more in-stock items for “instant gratification,” she says. “We want to increase the foot traffic we get, and that way we now know to purchase more floor pieces and accessories for our customers.”
Judith Ripka, a luxury jewelry brand, opened its first-ever brick-and-mortar location at The Westchester, in White Plains, in July, after a yearlong delay due to the pandemic. Bob D’Loren, CEO of Xcel Brands, which owns the company, said it enjoyed considerable growth online over the last year. He added that, overall, the jewelry industry performed well in the pandemic.
“There has been a casualization of all things fashion related over the past four years,” D’Loren said. “That said, many industry experts are predicting a return to more formal fashion beginning in the third quarter of 2021.”
Related: Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts Has a New Leader