Shop Talk: One Door Closes, Another Opens in Downtown Harrison

The following column was originally published in The Harrison Report on August 5, 2010. It is reprinted below with additional photos.

Shop Talk

Written by Carla Rose Fisher

Thursday, 05 August 2010 15:25
As any Harrisonite will tell you, there are countless shops and businesses that give our community its charm and character. Many are doing their best to retain customers or attract new ones in this economy, and this column will examine marketing trends in the area and enable other businesses to apply the wisdom gained to their own operations.

One door closes, another opens

In Downtown ... As you make your way through downtown Harrison these days, you can’t miss the signs. They’re plastered in every available window of a shop that has been open for business for 29 years. The kind of signs you don’t wish to see. At Gold Rush Jewelers, 267 Halstead Ave., they read “Going Out of Business Sale,” “Fixtures for Sale” and “Store Closing Sale.”

The closing of Gold Rush Jewelers is a sign itself of the continuing merchant struggles in downtown Harrison. When I visited the store both to talk with owner Jason Manstream and to take advantage of the total liquidation sale, I found myself speaking in a funereal tone. “Well, take care,” I said when I left, averting my eyes. The sad circumstances felt completely antithetical to my natural role as a cheerleader for local business; I take closings of mom-and-pop shops hard. And Gold Rush is where my husband and I purchased our wedding bands, and where we got them engraved to mark our first anniversary. It’s also where I got my goddaughter’s christening present, and on this particular day, a chain to match, for her upcoming second birthday.

I asked Manstream why the decision was made to close the store now. “Summer is the worst time of year for retail,” he said. “We wouldn’t make it to Christmas.”

Across the street, the opposite signage: “Grand Opening” and “Now Open.” Those signs belong to CVS/pharmacy, whose arrival at 270 Halstead Ave. in Harrison was two-and-a-half years in the making. When asked if Gold Rush should postpone its closing in the hopes that the store traffic from CVS/pharmacy might cross the street to Gold Rush, Manstream said it’s non-issue. “It’s not about proximity. People just don’t have the money to buy luxury items these days,” he said.

Since taking over the store last year from his parents, Charles and Betty Manstream, Jason said the store’s economic trajectory has been downhill. “There was nothing I could have done differently to fight against the down economy,” he said. “Our potential customers are more in the market to sell off their gold.”

News of Gold Rush’s closing began with a direct-mail letter from the Manstream family sent to 5,000 Harrison residents, stating that it’s time to close. It also featured a sign-up form for a raffle for over $2,000 in prizes, a promotion set up by Wingate Sales Solutions, the nearly 100-year-old consulting company the younger Manstream hired to handle the closing. In addition to that initial entry form, the letter noted that for every $50 you spend in the store, you receive another raffle ticket. During the first week, 200 people had signed up for the raffle.

With the announcement of the Gold Rush’s everything-must-go sale, which began July 22, the store’s daily traffic during that fourth week of July had increased by 300 percent. That turnout was generated strictly from the letters and the going-out-of-business signage. By coming out in droves, the Harrison community is sending a strong message that Gold Rush is a part of the town’s heritage and will always hold a warm place in our hearts.

The sale is so big that it’s easy on our tight budgets: The entire inventory has been reduced for quick sale. This includes 14K and 18K gold jewelry, precious and semi-precious stones, pearl jewelry, clocks and watches, fine collectibles and gifts (like humidors and Precious Moments figures). Customers this past week have run the gamut from young to old, including two teenagers who came in while I was in the store, looking for gifts for their girlfriends.

Even with the sale and raffle to soften the blow, some customers have been taking the news rather hard. “They’ll ask me, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’” Manstream said. “But it’s not personal; it’s business. Hopefully, the people of Harrison and I will do business again...” His voice trailed off as he took a long pause. “In another time, another place.”

When I ask if there is any advice he’d like to offer new businesses, Manstream paused. “That’s a tough one. Small business in Harrison is, sadly, dwindling,” he said. He went on to cite the closing of the photo developing a store a few months ago, and I mentioned Bagelicious’ recent closing.

So what’s next for Manstream? That depends on how well the closing sale goes to pay off store debts, etc. He anticipates that the sale will last eight weeks, with the doors closing for good at the end of September. The sale is Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. I encourage you, dear readers, to think ahead to Christmas, Hanukkah, upcoming family birthdays or anniversaries and do some early shopping now. You don't see prices like this every day.

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Fortunately, there is good news for non-luxury item merchants in the neighborhood. CVS/pharmacy’s presence has brought several shops more foot traffic. According to CVS Store Manager Alexis Nunez, Dunkin’ Donuts, Quizzno’s, Harrison Donut Shop and Harrison Pizza & Pasta have all seen an increase in store traffic as a result of their proximity to the 10,880-square-foot store.

In fact, Nunez made a point to get to know his new neighbors. Prior to the store’s July 25 opening, he visited each business in the neighborhood to gather staff head counts so that he could provide them each with 20 percent off coupons for extra savings on the first day of business. He has also ordered food for his staff from his neighbors, he purchases daily meals in the neighborhood and he recently donated to the Harrison community by providing water bottles for the Summer Concerts in Ma Riis Park, where the Harrison High School cheerleaders sold the water to raise money for new uniforms.

Nunez can sum up the message he wants to send to residents in four words: convenience and customer service. “We want to make the store as convenient as possible for residents,” he said, letting me know that that some customers expressed how frustrated they were at having to go to Mamaroneck or Rye to shop for certain items. Some Harrisonites even came in that first day thanking Nunez for opening, amid exclamations of “finally!”

The hours of operation are also a big part of CVS/pharmacy’s convenience, considering its proximity to the Metro-North station. The store proper is open from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week. The pharmacy is open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday.

As for the service, Nunez said CVS is all about it. “We have both front and back check-out area, in addition to the pharmacy,” he said. “Everybody here is cross-trained, so managers and even pharmacy staff can hop on the register if need be.” He’s already done so. The store also features drive-through pharmacy service (with free delivery), a digital photo cafe, a Healthy Skin Care center and a 37-space parking lot.

The Grand Opening is set for this Sunday, Aug. 8, starting at 7 a.m. Nunez said it will be kid-focused, with balloons, refreshments and Elmo and Cookie Monster on-hand for pictures from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For adults, freebies include gift bags (while supplies last), free skin care analyses and skin care samples. There will also be a drawing for a Healthy Skin Care gift basket valued over $100.

FOR THE RECORD: Just to dispel any rumors that may be surfacing, Bakery & Patisserie, at 247 Halstead Ave., is not closing. The sweet shop owned by Violet and Sean Gerguri is entering its fifth month of operation in downtown Harrison, and while cakes and pastries are their most popular items, they also serve gourmet coffee. “We know that many people are on vacation now, and we are optimistic that business will pick up as we head into the fall and the holiday season,” said Violet. “When people come in, they will see that we offer quality baked goods at a good price.” The bakery also has also become a friendly neighbor, having recently supplied cookies, danishes and other pastries for an art exhibit held two doors down at Masterpiece Framing. I can personally vouch for the bakery’s chocolate ganache cake; it was a hit at a recent party.

Carla Rose Fisher is a freelance writer and web consultant who specializes in marketing for small businesses and startups. She is also an award-winning songwriter and resides in Harrison. If you know of a newsworthy small-business happening in the area, e-mail carla@saidandsung.com.