" Michael Rosenberg, 58; Burhan Okuyan, 52; and Yosef Shimron, 52, all veteran shopkeepers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, don't know one another. Mr. Rosenberg is in clothing; Mr. Okuyan, art framing; Mr. Shimron, computer services. "
Yet all three, on their own, figured out the same thing. And that discovery has helped them survive the Great Recession when so many shops around them have closed: adults who stop spending on themselves in bad times will still spend on children.
Since the downturn, Mr. Rosenberg has switched the clothing at his shop from 60 percent women's to 80 percent newborn and children's.
Mr. Okuyan started working with nearby schools, and now says he's more likely to get an order to frame a 3-year-old's refrigerator art than a lithograph or an oil by an established contemporary artist.
Mr. Shimron has placed a big sign in his window offering lessons for children in building a computer, one of several kid services he's added in the last year.
While they expect to survive the recession, all three have been hurt. Mr. Rosenberg says business is down 20 percent; Mr. Okuyan, 15 percent; Mr. Shimron, nearly 50 percent. Still, they count themselves lucky.
Every day, Mr. Rosenberg walks down Amsterdam Avenue from his apartment on West 90th to his shop near West 79th and tabulates the recession's impact.
"Twelve empty storefronts," he said. Mr. Okuyan just has to look out his window onto Broadway: "We lost a flower shop, vitamin store, bookstore, Malaysian restaurant, women's clothing store."
GRANNY-MADE (381 AMSTERDAM, BETWEEN 78TH AND 79TH)
Mr. Rosenberg opened the store, which features handmade sweaters, 25 years ago. It was mainly a women's shop with a men's section and a few children's things. While his clothing is priced mid-range (women's machine-knit sweaters start at $60), well into the previous decade he was able to sell British hand-knit women's sweaters for $800.
"That's gone," he said. "We did a lot of women's suits, sportswear, reversible skirts - totally dropped after the recession."
He used to phone his female regular customers after Labor Day, inviting them to come see the new fall clothes, but stopped in September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed. "I didn't know who was hurt and who wasn't," he said. "I felt it'd be unseemly to call."
As sales dropped - and a women's shop closed a few doors down - he noticed children's sales were not falling as much.
"I always listen to my customers, and what I'd hear from mothers and grandmothers was, 'How can you not spend on a baby?' " Mr. Rosenberg said.
"We started carrying swaddling blankets, first toys, birth clothes, we even do clothes for prenatals now. We just expanded into christening gowns, people were asking and they'll spend - from $106 to $192."
"Girls' dresses have been explosive - 6 months to 8 years. We stay out of the teenaged years - they get difficult."
Lee Anne MacDonald, 64, a writer and publicist, shops less for herself these days, but still buys for her grandchildren at Granny-Made.
"You have to remember a little girl on her birthday, you have to remember the little boy who's truck crazy," she said. "It's the idea of hope. They're our future."
Long-term customers ask, "When did you become a baby store?" In just 650 square feet of space, from a business that typically does $40,000 in sales a month, Mr. Rosenberg spotted a national trend.
While children's clothing sales are down 7.5 percent nationally over the last two years, adult clothing is down 8.9 percent, according to a survey by NPD, a market research company.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports employment at men's stores is down 25 percent since the recession began; employment at women's stores is down 1.5 percent, but at children's stores it is up slightly.
"People want their kids to be insulated from the recession," said Ellen Davis, a National Retail Federation spokeswoman. "We notice it in holiday spending - back-to-school didn't decline as much as other holidays."
It's still been hard for Mr. Rosenberg. He went into his retirement account to pay vendors and meet his payroll.
Children's items are lower-priced, producing a smaller profit. "Our average adult sweater is $150," he said. "You have to sell a lot of $30 rompers to make up." But last month, he did $52,000 in sales, his strongest March in several years.
METRO FRAMART (2459 BROADWAY, AT 91ST)
When the economy dived, Mr. Okuyan, who's been in this neighborhood for 20 years, began sending $50 framing gift certificates to architects, interior designers, synagogues, churches and schools, trying to draw some traffic into his store.
Only schools responded, auctioning the certificates at fund-raisers. "Parents started coming in," he said. They would put the $50 certificate toward a $200 frame.
Children's art has risen to about 25 percent of his business, from about 5 percent, since the recession. "Look around," he said pointing to shop walls covered with framed works by contemporary artists. "They're not selling. That's why they're on the walls."
On the other hand, Mr. Okuyan is framing three finger-paintings by Ava Jacoby, age 21 months, which will cost the artist's mom $1,082.64.
"I'd never spend that on a frame for myself," said Michelle Jacoby, 34, who's giving them as a gift to her husband for his law office. "He's turning 40, and there's nothing else he'd want, than something from his daughter."
It's broadened Mr. Okuyan's view of art. "All kids are artists, that's how we look at it now," he said.
Like his customers, Mr. Okuyan has cut back while still spending on his children. "I just bought my kids new phones, expensive ones," he said. "My wife and I are taking their leftovers. I don't want them to feel left behind their friends or inferior to anyone."
His daughter, a senior at George Washington University, went to Puerto Rico for spring break; his son, a sophomore at the University of Rochester, went to Europe last summer. And Mr. Okuyan, who used to take three weeks of vacation a year, hasn't taken any since the recession. "I can't afford not to work," he said.
DESKTOP USA (517 AMSTERDAM, AT 85TH)
Mr. Shimron opened his business as a copy store 20 years ago and has adapted through the years, now providing a wide array of computer and graphic design services
In the last year, while revenues are down, his children's business is up 15 percent. "We used to get people who needed a business prospectus bound and printed," he said. "We don't see that now."
He's started advertising one-on-one homework help for children at $50 an hour. ("Do you want your child to excel in school? Our team can assist your child on homework assignments.")
A big sign in the window says: "Can Your Child Build His/Her Own Computer? Absolutely. Let's Do It Together."
Instruction plus buying the computer parts can cost a parent $1,000, but Michelle Fraczek, 30, a business manager, thought it was worth it for her only child, Maya Chavez, 11.
Though the mother has cut out most spending on herself - beauty appointments, new clothes, eating out - she believed that learning to build a computer would be such an advantage for her daughter.
"This will give her a head start in school," Ms. Fraczek said.
"I think of it as a necessity that she has the skills to be able to do anything on a computer. I wish I did. If I don't do it now, when the economy eventually improves and it's Maya's time, she won't be ready."
Source: NY Times
Friday, July 2, 2010