Westfield businesses prepare for Shop Small

WESTFIELD- Small Business Saturday is in just a few days and local shops are preparing for the once obscure holiday that now increases that day’s customer count to levels usually seen by larger corporations.

Since 2010, American shoppers have spent $85 billion at local retailers during Small Business Saturday, which brings the average to $10.6 billion per year on that day to small businesses. When one considers that they typically do not have the benefit of opening their doors at midnight like most big box stores do on Black Friday, that is encouraging.

Thanks in part to the revitalization of Westfield’s downtown in the last decade, more small businesses have opted to set up shop right here. Many have chosen Elm Street as their home, but one can find local retailers spread out across the entire city.

Joe Wynn, owner of Two Rivers Burrito. (Photo by Peter Currier)

Two Rivers Burrito Co. is a popular destination in Westfield for residents who want a quick bite to eat but do not want to wait in the intimidating lines often found at competing chains. It is rare for one to not begin eating their food within a few minutes of walking through the door. Owner and found, Joe Wynn, has an interesting background that does not usually lead to opening a burrito restaurant.

“I served in the Air National Guard as an intel officer at Barnes,” said Wynn, “as part of the training for the intelligence field I had to go to a school in Texas. While I was there I got to go to a lot of ‘Tex-Mex’ type restaurants. It got me thinking that people in Westfield would like something like that.”

Wynn’s burrito restaurant opened its doors in May 2013. For the first three years of business, Wynn had the burrito market in Westfield cornered. In Oct. 2016, the national burrito chain, Moes, opened a franchise on Main Street.

“It did significantly impact us the first year they were open,” said Wynn, “but we survived, and the community has been very good to rally around us and support us too.”

Twin Rivers has been open for Black Friday in years past, but this year Wynn has opted to remain closed, so his employees can have an extra day off with their families. On Small Business Saturday, however, Wynn plans to be open and ready to handle the extra business he typically sees on that day.

“Our focus will be to have good food for the people who come down for that day,” said Wynn, “That’s one of the busiest days for a few of our retail neighbors like Rosewood and Blended Vintage Marketplace. That generates foot traffic for us.”

Wynn said that Small Business Saturday has consistently been his busiest day of the year for the small burrito restaurant.

Andrea Bruno, owner of Blended Vintage Marketplace. (Photo by Peter Currier)

Andrea Bruno, owner of Blended Vintage Marketplace, is just two doors down from Two River Burrito. Her shop carries and sells artwork and creations by local artists.

“There are 27 artists in here,” said Bruno, “we have everything from art on canvas to professional photography and painted furniture.”

Bruno’s shop, unlike many of Westfield’s local businesses, does not have direct competition from any larger stores. Hers is unique in that the products she carries will only be found at her store on Elm Street. She has cornered a niche in Westfield that had not previously been filled.

“We have a lot of people when they come through from upstate New York who are happy to find this place,” said Bruno, “because they don’t have anything like this there.”

Every month, during Westfield’s downtown Art Walk, Blended Vintage Marketplace will showcase one of the 27 artists or photographers featured in the store.

Bruno has noticed the effects of the Shop Small movement in the two years that she has manned the storefront. She said that it does get busier for herself and the businesses neighboring her on Small Business Saturday.

“It’s a big deal to anybody that owns a small business,” she said, “that is a good day for us. I’m sure it’s a good day for everyone who works on this street.”

Kim McNutt, co-owner of Mama Cakes. (Photo by Peter Currier)

On the same strip of Elm Street, one can look to fulfill their sweet tooth as well. Mama Cakes, owned and operated by Kim McNutt, has filled that void for more than seven years.

McNutt set up shop in a time when downtown Westfield was in the midst of a major reconstruction. The small business landscape was practically unrecognizable from its current form. Mama Cakes originally occupied a space across the street from its current location before they were able to afford a bigger space where it is now.

“It surprises me still how many people do not know we are here,” said McNutt, referencing the high vehicular traffic Elm Street receives daily.

McNutt’s decision to open Mama Cakes came as she realized she was already baking a lot for her family and friends for free. Herself and her husband had fallen on hard financial times and they needed another source of income. Her husband was apprehensive about the idea, until Kim did the math and realized she only needed to sell 13 larger cupcakes a day to turn a profit. The first day Mama Cakes was open, they sold out in an hour and a half.

Mama Cakes does not have any obvious competition from bigger stores. The bakeries in Westfield supermarkets carry cupcakes, but it is not their specialty like it is for Mama Cakes.

“It’s baked fresh every day,” said McNutt on how Mama Cakes stands out, “our flavors change all the time.”

McNutt’s bakery had not been open for previous Small Business Saturdays due to it being historically slower for her on that day. She said that people are likely not going to buy cupcakes so soon after eating Thanksgiving dinner and dessert.

This year, however, they plan on being open Saturday.

“We’re opening this year because last year the owner of Rosewood had 100 people in her store at once,” said McNutt, “she told us they had 30 or 40 people ask why we were not open.”

Most businesses in Westfield sell or advertise an actual physical product. This is not the case for Bright Cloud Studio.

Bob Burch, owner of Bright Cloud Studio. (Photo by Peter Currier)

The website design studio is owned by Bob Burch and is physically located in a small office space in a building on Elm Street. The company itself is bigger than the physical space would suggest due to its nature as a web company.

Burch once worked for a marketing firm based in Westfield before he started Bright Cloud Studio. Four years ago, the firm he worked for downsized itself, and Burch took on a lot of their clients and picked up where his old firm left off.

“What I did at the firm was website design, development, and email marketing,” said Burch, “mostly web development work.”

Bright Cloud Studio has six employees and two interns on its staff. They are rarely all together due to the largely online nature of the company. One employee currently lives in Portland, OR, but still works full time for Burch.

“A lot of our work we have to do off hours anyway,” said Burch, “if we’re doing upgrades to a website we want to do that late at night so that when it goes down for five minutes there aren’t many people on it.”

Bright Cloud Studio does not use web design templates when building a website for a client. Everything they do is custom based on the wishes of their clients.

Burch chose the office space his company resides in for several reasons. Proximity to his home was an important factor, as he only lives a mile down the road. Burch also emphasized that he wanted visibility.

“A lot of my clients aren’t even local,” he said, “it’s nice to be part of the community as opposed to being holed up in my house.”

Bright Cloud Studio will not be open on Small Business Saturday, as their product is not something that is feasible to market to the volume of people other businesses should expect. Burch said he will at least keep the sign lit up over the weekend to acknowledge his own small business.

Not every small business in Westfield is located on the same stretch of Elm Street. Kelly’s Home and Garden can be found on Springfield Road.

(Left to right): Riley, Guinness, and Brian Kelly, co-owner of Kelly’s Home and Garden. (Photo by Peter Currier)

Previously known as Westfield Home and Garden, the store was purchased in 1982 by Brian Kelly’s father-in-law, who owned the store until he retired in 2016. Kelly and his wife reopened the store the following year and re-branded it as a way to start anew.

Kelly’s big box store competition is likely the most obvious of any business in town. The store is located between the behemoths of Walmart and Home Depot, both of whom carry the same kinds of products as Kelly’s.

“People asked us over the years if it has hurt us,” says Kelly, “any time a big box store comes into town you need to adjust your business. You need to figure out your niche and what you do better than they do.”

When Kelly and his wife took ownership of the store they decided they would focus on locally owned goods. Many of the products they carry are created by local artists. The bird feeders, furniture and decorations are handcrafted, unlike the products usually found in Home Depot or Walmart.

“We focus on being local and we focus on service,” said Kelly, “we store peoples wood pellets throughout the season. We will re-pot a plant for you. We hold classes, some are educational, and some are just fun events.”

Kelly has noticed that Small Business Saturday has become a bigger event each year since its inception in 2010. The store will be open that day and there will be extra staff on hand.

“Last year was the first year where we saw a noticeable difference,” said Kelly, “It was the first time was saw it as a real event. It’s definitely a boost of business for that day.”

Kelly said that they do sales this time of year anyway, but that they will be holding some extra sales for the shopping weekend as well.

Jillian Knapp, owner of Rosewood Home and Gifts. (Photo by Peter Currier)

Rosewood Gifts is a small shop located on the same stretch of Elm Street as Two River’s and Mama Cakes. Previously known as Ezra’s, the store was purchased by Jillian Knapp a year and a half ago.

Knapp previously worked in anesthesia at a hospital before she decided to purchase the business on a hunch.

“It was completely on a whim,” said Knapp, “I thought, ‘hey that sounds like fun,’ and at 23 years old I bought a business.”

Rosewood is mostly a home decoration shop that sells both decorations, and the materials to make them yourself. They offer workshops to teach people how to use chalk paint and build home décor using recycled materials.

2017 was the first year in which Knapp owned the store for Small Business Saturday. She said it was by far her busiest day of the year.

“I had about 1,000 people walk through this place,” she said, “The line was out the door for people to pay.”

Knapp said she had employees yelling for people to come back and pay for items before they pointed out that they were getting in line outside.

“It was non-stop people from the second we unlocked the door until we closed,” said Knapp, “this year I’m expecting more people.”

After the day was over, Knapp was scrambling to buy more merchandise to replenish the stock that had been sold.

Rosewood’s only major competition was BonTon, which recently closed its doors. Knapp responded by expanding into more departments of merchandise to fill the void left by BonTon.

Rosewood Home and Gifts will be open for Small Business Saturday. This time Knapp hopes to be prepared for an even higher turnout than last year.

Alex Altman owner of International Food Market on Meadow Street. (Photo by Peter Currier)

International Food Market is tucked away from the busiest parts of Westfield. Located on Meadow Street, the small grocery store and deli is owned and run by Alex Altman.

Altman is a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant who fled Soviet controlled Ukraine in 1978. It took him seven months to reach the U.S., where he eventually settled in Springfield after a short stint in New York City.

He opened a similar store in Springfield in 1989 and sold the store in 2000. He decided to reopen the International Food Market in 2014 in Westfield.

“The majority of my customers are the ethnic groups that commonly reside in Westfield,” said Altman, “I do get a lot of Americans who get sandwiches or cold cuts to take home. The ones who do discover me, they like it.”

Most of the products sold in Altman’s store are foods not usually found in the United States. Many of the products are labelled with Cyrillic lettering with no English besides the list of ingredients. Behind the counter, one will find drying meats, cold cuts, and fish.

Altman does not have any obvious big business competition in Westfield. There are, of course, several large grocery stores in town, but none of them sell the Eastern European products carried by Altman.

Between selling the store in Springfield and reopening in Westfield, Altman spent a lot of time working construction or flooring jobs.

“I came back to this because I was tired of those jobs and this is what I love to do,” said Altman.

Altman immigrated to the U.S. in a time when many Ukranian Jews were fleeing the Soviet Union. He escaped with the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a company that was founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing from persecution in Europe.

His store provides Westfield with a small taste of food from across the ocean. He has candy from Russia, various types of tea not found in common grocery stores, and meats like kabanosy, a type of dried sausage that tastes like kielbasa.

Altman had never heard of Small Business Saturday until recently. Due to the niche of his shop and the fact that people are not shopping for as much food after Thanksgiving, he has not noticed an increase in business that day.

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