Navigating the economic climate for small businesses

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:50

    Some up, some down, most holding their own in Sparta, By Fran Hardy Sparta — No matter how bad the economy gets, there are some things Sparta folks will not give up. Like ice cream in the summer. Or lattes all year round. Although most consumers are cutting back on spending and eliminating some of the luxuries they used to splurge on, when it comes to life’s guilty little pleasures, like a triple scoop dipped cone, or a double non-fat vanilla latte, they continue to spend. But the difficult economy has definitely affected both Sparta businesses and their consumers. Overall, spending has slowed and buying habits have changed. Small business owners have had to adapt to lower profits while managing higher costs from their suppliers. Sparta’s main business district may be dotted with the occasional empty storefront, but there are still plenty of establishments that have adapted and evolved during the economic downturn and have managed to hold their own. The following is a random sampling of some local businesses and how the current economy is affecting them. Must haves Hot summer months bring out the ice cream lovers and Don Gedicke of the Sparta Dairy at 28 Sparta Ave., says his business is “going good and strong.” He said consumer spending is steady and similar to past years because, he said, “people always buy ice cream.” Lines are usually out the door at the Sparta Dairy or at Rita’s Ice at the Theatre Centre, or at the Alpine Creamery at 14 White Deer Plaza on warm summer evenings, proving that sweet, frozen confections will likely remain a summer staple in town. Specialty coffees and made-to-order lattes also remain must-haves in town and Caitlin Jascewsky, of Green’s Beans at 31 Theatre Centre, said they have a loyal customer base that regularly comes in for barista-prepared java drinks, both hot and iced. She said their coffee sales are about the same as previous years, but their giftware sales have actually picked up. Also seeing a surprising spike in giftware sales is Garlic and Oil at 270 Sparta Ave. Owner Kathryn Kaplan said she thinks part of the reason is that the former clientele of Tweed, a gift store in the Theatre Centre that closed last year, has looked for other local vendors for specialty gift items. Kaplan said, however, most of her business is food related and she has steady customers that frequently buy gourmet basics like oils, marinades, pastas, and sauces. She said her overall business is actually better than last year. Changing habits Some businesses are still seeing reasonable sales, but less profits because consumers are buying different things. For example, people are still buying wines and liquors, but many are buying less expensive brands. George Caccavale of the White Deer Liquor Store at 4 White Deer Plaza, said they have the same number of customers as they’ve had for years, but their profit margins have gone down over last year because people are not buying the high-end European wines or top-shelf liquors. Debra Stark, of Sparta Coin and Jewelry at 5 Theatre Center, said people are still buying jewelry for gifts and special occasions, but they tend to buy more silver now, or gold-filled chains, rather than solid gold. She said many are selling their old or out-dated gold jewelry and are having old pieces redone, and a good deal of their business is jewelry repairs. Jim Malaro, of Jim’s Station Automotive at 92 Main St., said he has seen an increase in business because people are fixing their cars, rather than trading them in for newer models. He said he continues to get customers for his car restoration and called that “the happy side” of his business since people restore old cars because they want to, not because they have to. Sparta consumers also continue to spring for personal pampering, but again spending habits have changed. Jake Hemmerlin of the International Salon and Spa, at 26 Sparta Ave., said their business can be very busy one week, and very light the next. He said customers are still getting haircuts and hair color, but tend to spread their appointments out a bit longer now. He said facial sales have declined, but massage treatments have remained steady. “People do enjoy getting pampered,” he added. Krogh’s Restaurant and Brew Pub at 23 White Deer Plaza has maintained a very loyal and regular customer base, said Barbara Fuchs, wife of owner, Bob Fuchs. But she said, “People are definitely cutting back and not eating out as much.” She said, however, they feel blessed and are grateful for their loyal customers and their sales remain good. But, Fuchs said, “The prices we pay for things to run our business are going up astronomically, and that is really hurting us.” For example, she said delivery costs have gotten higher each year and they recently received notice that their propane costs could go up by $700 a month over the next year. Competing with the Internet Consumers have definitely cut back on flower purchases, according to Peter De Felice, owner of The Flower Box at 24 Main St. He said his business has changed over the 25 years he’s been in Sparta and overall the flower business has suffered because of online flower sales. De Felice said people still buy locally for weddings and special occasions, but the weekly purchases people used to make for their homes or for loved ones has all but stopped. Looking to other areas for customers Probably the industry hardest hit by the difficult economy is the construction and home improvement business. Ken Klenke of Creative Home Improvements at 664 Glen Rd., said very few peoples are doing major home improvement or construction projects in town this year. He said people are trying to do minor repairs themselves and are putting off bigger jobs. Klenke is keeping busy, though, by getting jobs in communities like Short Hills where people are still doing major projects. New ownership The Sparta Theatre, which was remodeled by new owner Jeannie Sachs last spring, will now sport a marquis-style sign on the grassy area in front of the Theatre Centre parking lot. It will show movies and show times and she hopes to have the sign in place very soon. Sachs said her business has been all right, but could be better since the theatre reopened and she hopes the sign detailing movies and times will bring more customers in. She said this weekend should be huge because of the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2”. Sachs said the theatre will have a special midnight showing tonight.