Small businesses hurting on Southern Blvd.

The corner of Southern Blvd. and E. 163rd St. in Hunts Point.

Hunts Point Christmas shoppers hunting for bargains elsewhere

It’s going to be a blue Christmas on Southern Boulevard, storeowners fear.

The general consensus among storeowners and managers in Longwood’s commercial district is that their businesses are losing money, just when retailers everywhere look to do their biggest volume in sales.

On visits in the second week of December, store clerks were pacing in empty aisles trying to find things to keep them busy. Cashiers were reading books, while store managers helped stock clerks make room for new merchandise coming into already-overstocked stores.

“This time last year business was much better, but actually it’s been decreasing steadily year after year. We probably won’t pick up until tax season is in full swing,” sighed Ismail Abadi, the owner of Street Wear on Southern Boulvard between East 163rd Street and Westchester Ave.

Malik Raza agreed. The owner of the nearby Fine Jewelry &Watches Gift Store, who’s been serving local customers for 14 years, Raza said, “Business is underground.”

Pedestrians caught with bags aplenty with the logos of stores from other areas were more than happy to tell why Southern Boulevard isn’t doing well.

“There are too many of the same cheap stores here and consumers want quality and variety,” said Bedford Park resident Reuben Gonzalez. Although his commute to and from work takes him to the area daily, he said, “I don’t shop here. I shop at Gateway Mall on 161st Street.”

From where he stood, Gonzalez could point to two T-Mobile stores directly across the street from one another, four nail salons, three 99 cent stores, and at least 10 urban gear stores selling much the same merchandise.

“Stores here are outdated and overpriced. Why should I buy tennis shoes for $200 here when I can get them from Foot Locker much, much cheaper?” asked Kevin Carson, who identifies himself as a smart consumer and said he only comes to Southern Boulevard for the 99 cent stores.

Although a survey conducted for the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District two years ago found that three-quarters of the shoppers live nearby, many commuters, like Gonzalez, transfer between the bus and the 6 train at the Hunts Point stop. “All the trains and buses over here gave me lots of foot traffic over the weekend, but people come in and don’t buy anything,” complained Shmuel Baron, the owner of Phat Gear Fashions at the corner of 163rd and Southern Boulevard.

Cynthia Valero, the manager of Rio Fitness says she doesn’t shop in the neighboring stores because “the stores should be cleaner, more organized, and be more customer-service oriented.”

The 2010 survey recommended that the Business Improvement District create an attractive gateway to the area and help businesses improve the appearance of their shops and the shopping streets.  The BID, which raises revenue from property owners who have agreed to pay an additional tax, has focused on sanitation and on advertising.

“Our mission is to upgrade the area and make it clean and safe to promote shopping, but the BID helps small businesses by running television and newspaper advertisements for those who can’t afford it,” said Medina Sadiq, the executive director of the BID.

However, the current newsletter on the BID’s website greets visitors with the news that “The summer is finally here.”  The website makes no mention of the Meet Santa event on Dec. 17, offering free holiday gifts for children. Only one store had a flyer advertising the event.

From Day 1, many retailers have asked the BID to do something about parking and parking tickets, issues they believe drive customers away or shorten their shopping visits.

“Cops out here harass my customers so badly with parking tickets; that’s why they choose to shop at the mall instead,” complained the jewelry store owner Malik Raza.

David Rios, who has owned Stephanie’s Pet Store, a block further along Southern Boulevard for 30 years, also sees parking as a major problem.

“There used to be a municipal parking lot on the corner of Westchester Ave. near where Key Foods is now,” he recalled. “Shoppers could get validated parking if they shopped on the boulevard, but they stopped giving the discount after a few years because of sketchy characters in the area and poor security. Now metered parking forces people to time themselves while they shop.”

Not everyone has a bad word for Southern Boulevard.

China and Brielle Acosta, sisters who live in Hunts Point, were carrying bags from the Walgreen’s on Westchester Avenue. They had just started their Christmas shopping and said they were happy about the shopping experience in the local commercial area.

China said she saved $4 off every $10 toy she bought, and Brielle said the deals on clothes in the area were more than reasonable.

Renee Morris who lives on Prospect Ave. says she is fine with buying jeans and boots locally, though she’d rather shop at Cee Cee’s on Third Avenue.

“I’ve been living in the Bronx for 40 years I’ve seen it all here,  so I’m not going to complain,” she said, before adding, “But I would like to see more sit down restaurants not just McDonald’s and Burger King.”

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