Small shops’ group gets big


By Heather Murray

In the wake of one of the dreariest Christmas shopping seasons in recent memory, three Thompson St. shop owners have launched a campaign to bring greater awareness — and foot traffic — to local small stores.

Fern Penn of Rosebud, a women’s clothing and accessories store, Linda Pagan of The Hat Shop and Rita Brookoff of Legacy, a women’s vintage and emerging-designer clothing and accessories store, created the grassroots organization S3, which stands for Shop Small Stores, in early January, and held their first meeting only weeks later.

S3 had grown to 24 stores by then, mostly located in Soho, and now boasts around 50 members from other locales, including Nolita and the Lower East Side.

“Everyone is bellyaching about the loss of business,” Penn said. “We decided to do something about it.”

She said the organization’s roster has grown simply by word of mouth. The founders personally stopped into many local small businesses and asked owners if they’d like to be involved.

The feedback they received was overwhelmingly positive, Penn said.

Hans Koch, who opened his eponymous leather handbag store in Soho 28 years ago, and has weathered tough times before, said bluntly of the past several months, “There was no Christmas.”

All stores involved in the campaign are given fliers to hand out in their stores with the yellow Shop Small Stores logo emblazoned on one side. The other side lists information about the first 30 stores that signed on to the campaign. A number of clothing, jewelry, furniture and accessory shops are highlighted on the flier, along with a gallery, chocolate store, bakery, copy center, hair salon, pharmacy and liquor store.

Two months from now all S3 stores are planning to throw a “May Madness” monthlong party with wine and food and raffles for customers.

Ideally, Penn said, she would like to have Sarah Jessica Parker come and pull the first raffle tickets at the end of May.

The organization includes a mix of longtime store owners and newcomers. Fred Marsh opened his first of five Sacco shoe stores on Thompson St. 28 years ago.

“One of the beautiful things about Soho is all of these individually owned boutiques,” he said. “It became a destination,” He highlighted Thompson St., in particular, as home to many small businesses.

Brookoff, owner of Legacy for the last 30 years, chimed in that she felt Soho was the first area to successfully mix art and commerce.

Marsh added, “Everything in Chelsea was here first.”

Jewelry designer Elise Perelman, on the other hand, is a more recent arrival, having opened her Lunessa on Thompson St. in 2005. She was originally looking just for a workshop space, but fell in love with her tiny Soho storefront.

Perelman said, with the new marketing campaign, she has enjoyed getting to know her neighboring store owners in a way that she hadn’t since moving onto the street. Before S3 was launched, she said, “There was a sense that everyone was in competition with each other.”

Now, owners work actively to promote other local stores if customers can’t find exactly what they’re looking for at a particular shop.

Betsy Imershein, a consultant for the organization who is a friend of co-founder Pagan, added that studies have shown that if people shop locally, money stays within the community.

Imershein is currently working pro bono for the organization and will be paid out of the $50 membership dues the organization is collecting to cover costs, including printing the fliers and promotional stickers for store windows.

Imershein has been following Brooklyn’s successful “Shop Local” campaign, and said she’d like S3 to similarly include business improvement districts and chambers of commerce among its ranks.

“We’re open to working with any organizations or businesses that would want to be a part of this,” Imershein said. “We’re not trying to compete with anything anyone else would be doing.” She feels it would be mutually beneficial for other organizations to work together with S3 toward the same goal of keeping neighborhoods thriving through a strong, independent store base.

But, the consultant stressed that while the goal of the Brooklyn campaign is to keep money in the borough, S3 is hoping to expand throughout the city and eventually go nationwide.

Penn said a revenue-generating measure Mayor Mike Bloomberg has proposed to remove tax-free status for clothing purchases of up to $110 would hurt small stores like hers. Penn would prefer that the tax-free perk instead be extended to purchases of up to $200.

Any store owner who identifies with S3’s goals of increasing business in independent stores through promoting consumer awareness, advocacy, networking and sharing resources is invited to attend the organization’s next meeting, Wed., March 18, at 7:30 p.m. at Rosebud, at 131 Thompson St.