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Oceanside, Island Park merchants hopeful for holiday sales amid pandemic

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Amid intense competition from online services like Amazon and many challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, local business owners said they were optimistic yet wary of how the holiday shopping season will turn out for them.

Sherri Li, owner of Protass Gifts, in Oceanside, said that while many retailers saw mixed results in Black Friday sales, her store was as busy as in previous years, which she said she hoped was a sign of things to come. She added, however, that business has been tough to generate overall since the pandemic began.

“It has been tough for every business, so we’re trying to drive more traffic to the store,” Li said. “We send out emails and texts to our customers, and we also do Zoom and FaceTime sales sessions.”

Li has owned the store, at 3173 Long Beach Road, for five years, but it has been a fixture in Oceanside for more than four decades. The business sells house gifts, bracelets and jewelry, handbags and other accessories. Li said that the store offered many Black Friday sales, both in-person and online, and recently started promoting curbside pickup to help customers feel comfortable during the pandemic.

Unlike with Amazon, her customers can come into the shop to see and touch the gift items in person, and there are sales representatives to provide personal service.

Li said she was concerned the pandemic could affect sales this holiday season, with many people staying home, but she noted that she is able to sell items online.

“Usually it’s the busiest time of the year for us, as we carry gift items,” she said. “So for the holidays, we’re trying to get customers to feel more comfortable.” To do so, she said, she has increased her private appointments with patrons, offering them the ability to come in early before the store opens or late after it closes to view items, or by hosting Zoom and FaceTime sessions.

Anmol Gandhi, who has owned Ritz Jewelry at 3574 Long Beach Road in Oceanside for 15 years, said he had a “decent” Black Friday and that he was grateful to the patrons who came out the day after Thanksgiving to support his business.

Gandhi said his store has had to adapt in many ways since the pandemic, increasing its online sales presence and offering curbside pick-up of items to help generate sales, all while helping customers feel safe.

“There has been an impact on the business,” he said. “People are not so confident to come out, but we have a good customer following, and they have shown their support and they came in, so that’s the only thing which I think about.”

In addition to Black Friday, Ritz Jewelry and Protass Gifts each took part in Small Business Saturday, which promotes shopping at and supporting local businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Much like Li, Gandhi said his one-on-one customer service gives him an advantage over Amazon.

“Jewelry is such a commodity that you want to actually see it before you buy something, so that’s the best thing about us,” he said. “As a small business, we can give one-on-one time to each customer and explain to them what the product is before we sell it. It’s more of a relationship instead of just trying to make a sale.”

Calls to several other businesses in Oceanside and Island Park had not been returned at press time.

Oceanside Chamber of Commerce President Ed Scharfberg said the chamber has done a great deal to support local businesses heading into the holidays. The efforts include placing “Shop Local” signs around Oceanside and inside some of its stores, promoting local businesses on social media, working with Nassau County Council of Chambers of Commerce, Town of Hempstead and Nassau County officials to develop promotions, and distributing personal protective equipment to area businesses.

“The importance of shopping locally is an essential part of the community fabric,” Scharfberg said.

Island Park Chamber of Commerce President Barbra Rubin-Perry said the chamber is also involved in several initiatives to support local businesses, including partnering with the Town of Hempstead to provide PPE to business owners, and continuing to provide exposure to new businesses with grand-opening and ribbon-cutting events, while making sure to keep patrons safe during the pandemic.

“Our members will have the opportunity to speak to local doctors and experts on how to keep staff and customers safe in the upcoming months,” she said. “Your local businesses are your friends and neighbors. They will need your support more than ever in these upcoming months.”