Small businesses have mixed feelings about incoming chain stores

The site of a new Burlington Coat Factory near The Hub. Photo: Eisley Constantine

The Hub is home to a hive of jewelry shops and clothing and furniture stores, with colorful signs attracting shoppers to their broad selections and consumer-friendly prices. Between familiar brands like Dr. Jay and Rainbow are locally-owned stores, whose owners live within the five boroughs.

But the imminent arrival of a Burlington Coat Factory and a Marshall’s at 2948 Third Avenue—once the site of the iconic Alexander’s Department Store—may change the equation. The new development is being overseen by the building’s landlords, Bob Carey and Alex Adami, members of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District’s board who bought the property in 2013 for $60 million. Renovation is expected to be finished by March 2018.

Hassan “Sonny” Younis, who owns Pretty Girl on Third Avenue, says he is not intimidated by the larger competitor.

“It’s not going to hurt us, no way,”  said Younis. He and other business owners say they are more concerned with competition from online retailers than from big chains.

“Business is not the same as like back in the days,” he said. “We have internet now and people shop internet. They buy something online that looks good in the pictures but then they see the actual product and they aren’t happy. I think people should do some exercise and go out and shop. Maybe when people are out looking for Burlington, they will find our business. We can have new customers.”

Reneseme Janette Troncoso, a local resident, said she was enthusiastic about the news of the new stores while shopping at Pretty Girl. “What’s good about Burlington? Everything. The clothes. The shoes.” Even so, Troncoso added, she would be sorry if small businesses like Pretty Girl disappeared.

“This store’s been here for 20 years,” she said. “I’ve shopped here my whole life. I wouldn’t shop here less, I shop there all the time. People here are constantly shopping, constantly shopping.”

Specialty retailers and residents are not the only ones who see the new arrivals as a potential win-win for the community. Michael Brady, executive director of the Third Avenue BID says that chain stores can bring unprecedented prosperity to the community.

“Burlington represents a significant step towards reimagining Courtlandt Avenue,” he said. “The [BID] has made it a goal to provide a healthy balance between mom-and-pop shops and the larger franchises.,” which includes nationally-recognized brands that could help invigorate small businesses, rather than lead to their demise. Considering the history of the location, “to see that building re-energized with retail giants is really heartening,” he continued.

One struggling local business owner was less optimistic. Dror Idi, owner of 123 Buy, Sell and Trade pawn shop, says, “I think America kill small business. The mom-and-pop shops cannot survive. On top of this real estate tax. The only people that make money are landlords.”

Idi says it is nearly impossible for him to keep up with rising taxes and the type of overhead that big businesses are built to withstand, and is considering closing his doors.

“This is why you see every thing closing down,” said Idi. “I cannot compete with Amazon. I cannot compete with Walmart.”