Just like the chipmunks and squirrels that are storing and saving for the winter, downtown business owners in Jersey City have been preparing for the cold and often slow season. Mike Wilson, the owner of Grove Street Bicycles, is dealing with the shop’s first winter after opening in April of last year. He recently focused on getting holiday shoppers excited about the 2010 line of bikes, clothing, and accessories while simultaneously trying to prevent an overstock of last summer’s riding gear.
Once the snow puts a halt on bikers’ riding plans, Wilson says that getting customers in the door is all about promotion. He has begun taking applications for programs like free weekly spin classes, flat-repair classes, monthly mechanic workshops (for a fee of $125), and storage specials. The courses include discounts on select merchandise.
“Our classes will help to show our knowledge and get our name out to the rest of the community,” said Wilson.
Winter can put a freeze on sales of bikes, ice cream, meals from food carts and scooters.
Thimio Floros, service manager for a Vespa scooter dealership, claims that his business, more than any auto dealership, is “definitely affected by the cold season.” “Sometimes in the winter, it’s a ghost town in here,” he said inside his store, which opened in June of 2008. After Christmas, the store has been open three days a week, a plan they put in effect last winter. The fact that the dealership only has three employees, including two managers, means that job titles must be combined. Floros not only provides mechanical and servicing jobs on the scooters, but is also responsible for sales and promotions.
Fewer sales for food vendors
Even the meals served on wheels seem to be dependent on the change in weather. As temperatures begin to drop, PATH train passengers getting home from work begin to hurry home to bundle up inside. For food cart vendors outside of the Grove Street station, this means fewer sales. Alex Munoz, 31, who set up his rented food cart truck in March of this year, planned to hibernate for the winter starting Nov. 29. He will return to his bartending job and a few catering gigs until the spring thaw.
“I don’t want to continue to pay rent and take the risk and invest during the winter,” he said between preparing orders. Munoz is saving his money so that he can purchase his own food cart and stay in business all through the winter next year.
Munoz is more than confident that because of the quality of his food, his customers will continue to show up once he has a cart of his own. “We’re going to kick a–. I have to be honest,” he said laughing. But just so his customers remember him before he takes off for the winter, he planned a feast of Mexican food to give out for free. He was also including more treats, such as Mexican desserts and hot drinks, on the house with each purchase.
Ice cream sales drop with the temperature
Stores that specialize in cold food, such as Torico Ice Cream Parlor at 20 Erie St., recognize the falling demand for certain foods is directly proportional to falling temperature. Pura Berrios, who opened the parlor with her husband Pete Berrios in 1968, reported that business drops 20 percent with every 10-degree drop in temperature, and that the same can be said for the reverse situation. In past years, the Berrios’ have tried to stay open during the more frigid months by experimenting by with “warmer foods” such as hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn. But Mrs. Berrios finds that differentiation doesn’t really help to draw in more customers.
This year, they planned to close for winter until February.
“We need that time to recharge. That’s our summer,” she said.
But that is not to say that all store-renters dread the winter.
Knitting the cold months away
“Winter is our season,” said Gynine Visconti, who opened the Stockinette Cafe in September of 2008. The cafe plays host to Jersey City knitters and coffee drinkers alike. Visconti says that her slowest months come just as school begins in September until the end of October. “It’s crickets and tumbleweeds around here,” she confessed. Winter is the most pleasant time to knit, she claims, and many people like to knit for holiday gifts. Visconti, 36, has begun to sell warmer material such as wool as opposed to lighter fabrics like cotton and linen. The coffee and pastries generate year-round sales, as do her workshops and knitting courses for beginners and advanced knitters. But it seems like the ultimate decider of fate for businesses all over is not so much the weather, but whether America’s recession will make a turn-around. Visconti remains optimistic that nationwide, positive economic change is coming. “It’s all right,” she said. “I’m working for free. One day that will turn around, but I’ll wait.”
Dave Feldman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org