Hastings-on-Hudson municipal building.
A local high school student dives into how the Westchester town bolsters, renews, and even grows its independent retailers and keeps services afloat.
With a population of just about 8,000 people, Hastings-on-Hudson is known for its small-town vibes and quiet river views. It is interesting, then, to see how small businesses have adapted to the pandemic as restrictions have led to closures and a shift to online shopping.
Store closures since March 2020 have included Corey Glass and The Mill, but in their place have arisen The Refill Room, Captain Jim’s Trivia, Rivertown Rose real estate offices, and Italian restaurant diRiso Risotto Balls. One barbershop, Arturo’s, closed, but another, Hudson Valley Barbers, opened shortly after, along with Hastings Beauty Salon by Samar.
Since Hastings-on-Hudson is normally a bedroom community—an area whose residents normally work in a different city—travel restrictions and remote work have spawned opportunities for small businesses to appeal to the local community and for townspeople to support one other through the hardships of this health crisis.
James Dale, who turned 50 in June and founded Captain Jim’s Trivia in the middle of March 2020, explains that he started his business expecting only “a gig a month.” However, it has now become his full-time job and Dale has attracted repeat customers such as Yale University and investment firm BlackRock. “Our game has gotten a million times better,” he explains, remaining hopeful for the future prospects of his business.
He says the words “BlackRock” and “Yale” with a tinge of disbelief, reflecting a charm and humbleness that is associated with the town’s businesspeople in general. “A sense for supporting local businesses can clearly be seen throughout the Village.”
Ellen Sledge, the owner of Penny Lick Ice Cream, who has also raised her three children in Hastings-On-Hudson, explains that she has “operated less hours than she usually would” this summer. Usually, during the summer she focuses on event catering, which contributes to 30% of her business’s gross revenue, including “festivals, weddings, bar mitzvahs—all the things that did not happen in 2020.”
In response, Penny Lick Ice Cream launched its own delivery system and has sold three times as many pints as it did in the same period last year. In addition, the ice cream parlor has reported better customer engagement and success in building a larger customer database.
“There’s a different challenge every day,” Sledge chuckles. Although the health crisis has presented unprecedented challenges, it is fair to say that some aspects have changed for the better as small businesses navigate their way through new obstacles.
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“We have lost a few of our businesses,” explains Barbara Prisament, the Downtown Advocate for the Village of Hastings-On-Hudson, who ensures that the village’s downtown area serves both residents and visitors as an attractive marketplace and space for community gathering. “They weren’t comfortable.” The village has seen a few of its businesses close, though most are determined to stay afloat, even in these difficult circumstances.
When asked about what the future looks like, Sledge explains that her days are driven by “optimism” and that she encourages other business owners to take it “one day at a time.”
With the virus heavily impacting brick and mortar businesses, hopes of an increase in foot traffic and sales now rely on the gradual reopening of the economy and the efficacy of vaccination. Retailers remain wary of new lockdowns and restrictions local governments may be likely to impose should we experience another case surge.
Though Yelp reports upwards of 60% of small, local businesses have closed in the past year, Hastings-on-Hudson is proof positive that small businesses and a community working together can create new opportunities — even during a pandemic.
Vedant Dangayach is a junior at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx with a growing interest in journalism, finance, and technology.