‘We will make this work’: Flatiron fashion boutique looks to survive and thrive in pandemic

traffic safety
Deb Koenisberger in her store Noir et Blanc – she is determined to make it work. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Deb Koenigsberger has offered high fashion to her loyal customers at Noir et Blanc on West 25th Street in the Flatiron District for 31 years. Like many other small business owners throughout New York, she suffered mightily during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noir et Blanc shut down from March through the beginning of the Phase 4 reopening of New York City in July. Despite taking a big hit, Koenigsberger is determined to save her business from financial ruin and survive.

At 60, her business is one of her first loves, next to her husband and two sons and her thrift store, Thrifty Hog (Hearts of Gold), which she operates two doors down to raise money for homeless women and children in shelters.

Koenigsberger’s not willing to allow COVID-19 to defeat her, and is depending on her faithful customers to flock back to buy her wears.

A high fashion store, Noir et Blanc offers top-line clothing, jewelry and shoes that Koenigsberger’s customers adore. But being closed for months has been financially damaging.

Koenigsberger said her landlord at first expected to be paid, but has been working with her now that she’s back in business. The landlord apparently realized that an empty store would be worse.

This is Noir et Blanc on West 25th Street. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

“Both stores were closed on March 13. I had rent with zero revenue, so I did not and could not pay,” Koenigsberger said. “The landlord is now working with me – how we can do abatement, stretch it out – she’s trying. It’s not good for any landlord though as we all have bills., I know we must pay something, but I generated no revenue so when you have no revenue for five months – I did about $30,000 in that time – that’s what I normally do in two or three weeks.”

Koenigsberger spends hours in her store Noir et Blanc on West 25th Street. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

But beyond rent, Koenigsberger said she has vendors to pay — most of whom, she reported, are very understanding. She also has utilities bills, and she noted that Con Edison has also been helpful to her.

As a member of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Koenigsberger was aware of assistance programs to help maintain her business. She received Paycheck Protection Program stimulus money of $6,900, which she used to pay bills and staff – but it didn’t go far.

She also received an small business services loan and loans from family members supportive of her business and charity work. 

Even though the store was closed, Koenigsberger figured out a way to continue to serve the public during that difficult time by running a food pantry.

“Within a week of closing, I was doing food distribution from the thrift store, so if you saw the store between April and July, it looked like a bodega with food, supplies, paper towels, masks and other vital items for moms and their children,” Koenigsberger said. “We were making emergency care packages,  delivering to shelters or they were picked up. We were still here every day.”

She’s not only devoted to maintaining her business, but her thrift store that raises money for the needy. She said she was taught as a child to give back to the needy, she and her parents are Jamaican immigrants, her mother raised in poverty.

“I grew up in a family that always did community service – my mom was from a poor family,  watched my mom and dad  live it, so anyone needing anything – this was in my DNA,” Koenigsberger said. “We were immigrants from Jamaica, and as a child, my parents came for opportunity for me to go to school and get a better education and a better life than my mom had. My mother appreciated what we had because we had enough, we had enough so we can afford to share. We were taught sharing is the most important thing.”

Her thrift store, Thrify Hog, is a labor of love. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Noir et Blanc doesn’t have an online business, so Koenigsberger is relying upon customers to return. Most of her business, she said, is based upon personal relationships. Many of her regulars purchased gift cards during the pandemic to make purchases later. They also called to order what she had in stock.

“They didn’t want to see my store close,” she said. “I have amazing customers.”

Customers now visit the store abiding by proper protocols for mask-wearing and social distancing. Koenigsberger said she keeps the store immaculate and as germ-free as possible.

Here she holds a pair of shoes inside of Noir et Blanc. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Going forward, Koenigsberger is positive that her business will thrive again. She worries that many of her neighbors will go belly up — leaving empty storefronts throughout her community and the city. Koenigsberger also expressed concern about a rise in crime, especially shootings among Black and Brown people.

But she refuses to allow any of it, crime, financial issues or COVID-19 to get her down.

“Manhattan will come back – this is a very strong city,” she said. “It is a matter of helping where you can and when you lift one up, you lift all so we will lift as many small businesses as we can and will fight for it till we prevail.”

Noir et Blanc adheres to all COVID-19 protocols. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

This story is part of amNewYork Metro’s “Small Business Survivors” series, an ongoing look at how New York City small businesses are working to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re a small business owner surviving the pandemic, send us your story by emailing [email protected]