Holiday shopping in Manhasset

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To counter challenges to small businesses posed by big box stores and online retailers, the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce will support local merchants participating in Small Business Saturday this week, a nationwide effort to encourage shoppers to patronize nearby businesses. 

“In the age of technology it’s easy to sit home and do your shopping. But people don’t realize the effect they have on the local economy when they fail to come out and support small businesses,” said Stephanie Solomon, the owner of Chocolate Works and an incoming co-president of the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce. 

“When shoppers keep their money in the local economy it helps the workforce, and it helps people who live in the area by adding tax dollars,” she said. “That’s really the focus of the day.”  

American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010, and has held it every year since. This year the credit card company sent promotional materials, such as canvas bags and signs, to the Chamber of Commerce, which distributed them to local stores, the chamber said. 

Many participating stores will offer discounts on Saturday to attract customers to local shopping districts like the one on Plandome Road. 

Solomon said her chocolate store at 346 Plandome Rd. will offer 10 percent off every item. 

“My discounts will continue every Saturday throughout the holiday season,” she said. “They’ll remind people not to head to the mall but to head to local businesses.”

E.J. Coleman, an outgoing co-president of the Chamber of Commerce, said conditions in Manhasset have become far more challenging for small businesses over the 29 years since he moved to the area and became a member of the group. 

“What’s happened in Manhasset is representative of what’s happened in small towns across the country: big box firms have taken over and mom and pop stores have suffered greatly. Online shopping has added insult to injury,” he said.

He cited the steep decline in business owners on the chamber’s mailing list as an indicator of how times have changed.

“When I joined the chamber we had about 1,000 merchants on our mailing list and another 2,000 addresses of people who ran businesses out of their houses,” he said. “Now we have a total of 600 or 700 businesses, and half of those are run out of the owner’s home.”

Coleman said the phenomenon was exemplified by Wright Hardware, a store at 355 Plandome Road that opened in 1921 and went out of businesses in recent years because it could not compete with Home Depot. 

“The chamber is helping local businesses that are still here by expanding our membership list so we can let people know about what our merchants are doing in town,” he said. 

Solomon said stores like hers can compete with larger companies by offering unique, creative products that are not available elsewhere. 

“In chocolate the only thing you’re limited by is your imagination,” she said.

BY MAX ZAHN

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