Mustering support for Altamont’s small businesses: Parade to lead the way, flags to light the way

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

As a show of support for local businesses and veterans in Altamont, this Memorial Day Weekend, a community car parade will wend its way throughout the village. Flags like this one will light the way.

ALTAMONT — Nearly two-thirds of small businesses in New York State don’t have enough cash on hand to run their operations for more than two months, according to survey data recently released by the federal government.

So, even before the coronavirus shutdown, life for small businesses in the Capital Region wasn’t all that rosy.

Jonathan Phillips, president of Phillips Hardware, said when he goes to small-business day at the Capitol he is told by Senators and Assembly members that they want his opinion — and tell him: Let’s do a roundtable on the topic.

After every single roundtable discussion that he’s ever attended, he’s asked for meeting minutes, he said, and asked “What’s going to get executed and what information did you get out of the meeting?” 

“We got zero responses back on every [request],” Phillips said. “So, it’s lip service to me and the rest of my friends.”

The other small-business owners he shares his story with tell him not to waste his time; nothing is going to change. They tell Phillips: They’re not going to hear us.

“And now with the pandemic,” Phillips said, “we’re hurting a million times more.”

So, Phillips, along with Troy Miller of CM Fox Real Estate and Kevin Efaw of Orchard Creek Golf Course, began to look for ways to safely highlight Altamont’s small-business community.

The result: This Memorial Day Weekend, on Saturday, May 23, at 10 a.m., a community car parade celebrating Altamont’s small businesses, as well as its veterans, will wend its way through the village. 

Phillips said he, Miller, and Efaw had talked for some time about a way to support Altamont’s local businesses; the village has lost a few of them in the recent past. 

But small businesses often spend seven days a week being open, Phillips said, and their owners often spend seven days a week working. “So it’s kind of hard when you’re opening your stores, and managing your finances, and delivering or covering your shifts, to also then have the time [to] connect with other businesses,” he said.

With the local chambers of commerce, businesses are getting to know and support one another, Phillips said, but what is missing in the Capital Region is customers getting to know and support the small businesses.

The trio looked at how everyone in the village could connect.

“How could we do something that is safe and has the energy of connecting us,” he said, the village, home to many veterans, had a Memorial Day parade planned, which was canceled because COVID-19, so a car parade was decided on.

The idea at first was trying to light up the businesses by literally putting a light on in every store in Altamont. But then the concept of LEDs came into play to light up the entire village.

In and around Altamont, small replicas of American flags, with light-emitting diodes, are staked in front lawns, signaling a kind of “rebirth of our community,” Phillips said.

Five dollars from every light-up flag sold goes toward the STRIDE Wounded Warrior program, a not-for-profit that provides adaptive sports for wounded veterans.

Phillips called it “the connectivity of everybody,” whereby residents could connect with one another and could also support businesses, which was then connected to veterans’ programs, which are also hurting financially. 

 

Adapting

Phillips thinks one consequence of the pandemic will be an increase in creativity and entrepreneurship. Phillips Hardware, for example, began home delivery

A bad year for the business in 2019 prepared Phillips a little better for 2020, he said. Expansion plans for his shop on the corner of routes 146 and 158 were put on hold as he re-scaled the company. He had started construction on a new building but had stopped, putting him in debt for $700,000 of construction-related costs; he sold two of the company’s stores to pay off the debt. 

So this year when the pandemic hit, he adapted, he found different distribution. The company had already lost a third of its revenue, so Phillips “could just run with a backpack,” or run a leaner operation, he said.

Big companies, obviously, have big budgets to attract customers.

For smaller companies, Phillips said, it’s often a grassroots operation.

“Grassroots is hard; one-by-one you take care of somebody and hope they tell someone,” he said. “We’re trying to jump that — and Altamont is the perfect community.”

Forming small-business groups or alliances and working with other upstate chambers of commerce, Phillips said, is one way for small businesses to collectively gain a voice — not just in business but in government.

The well-off businesses that can afford attorneys and accountants to navigate the bureaucratic morass of the system seem to always benefit, Phillips said, often to the detriment of the small businesses “at the bottom,” speaking specifically to the pandemic-related federal small-business loans handed out recently that appeared to go to everyone but small businesses. 

The business community itself for too long, said Phillips, has “been controlled by New York City.”

Phillips is not saying, just let business step in and run everything.

At the state level, Phillips said of local Assembly members Patrica Fahy and John McDonald, “I watch Fahy, I watch McDonald — I watch them,” he said. “No one can say they’re not trying to help or work hard.”

But the government has got to do what successful businesses have done, Phillips said. “We know how to adapt, we know how to survive, those of us that are around, and still in business in this state,” he said.

State regulations like wage controls negatively affect margins, he said, so one thing that should be instituted is a youth wage.

As a small-business owner since the early 1990s, Phillips said, he’s already been “annihilated” once before — with the advent of the big-box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. 

But his company adapted, it bought stores, it sold stores, it changed suppliers, changed product lines, added services, added things that Lowe’s and Home Depot didn’t sell.

During the pandemic, Phillips said, his hardware store has become a bit of a meeting spot, where everyone socially distances, and he hears a lot of people’s stories — out-of-work or otherwise. 

So, as someone who is working seven days a week, a big piece of his mindset comes from his interactions with people who are out of work, and it’s really become about getting something done, executing a plan.

That’s why he called into the Costco public hearing last week to say he supported the project even though it could impact his business. 

“That’s a move I used to fight 10 or 15 years ago,” Phillips said.

At one time, he didn’t want to see the growth of the bigger stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, he said, because he had thought that meant the demise of smaller stores.

“But now my mindset is: We need jobs, we need tax revenue to help the nonprofits, and to help our towns and to help our community,” he said.

****

This is the route for Altamont’s parade on Saturday, May 23, stepping off at 10 a.m.: Beginning at the Altamont fairgrounds, the convoy will exit onto Brandle Road; take a right onto Altamont Boulevard; then a right on Main Street; followed by left on Maple Avenue; right on Western Avenue; then right onto Lincoln Avenue; followed by a right back onto Main Street; left on Park Street; left on Fairview Avenue; left onto Grand Street; right on Main Street; left on Gun Club Road; left on Western Avenue; right on Maple Avenue Extension; right on Gregg Road; left on Groot Drive; right on Sanford Place; left on Whipple Way; right to Bozenkill Road; left on Dunnsville Road; and ending at Orchard Creek Golf Club.

 

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