McCoy highlights five faces of local business, urging, ‘Shop local’

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“If we can all come together, hopefully we can light up our Capital Region again,” said Jonathan Phillips, owner of Phillips Hardware.

ALBANY COUNTY — “Shop local” was the message hammered home by Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy at his Tuesday coronavirus press briefing.

Five owners of local businesses joined him in a chorus singing the virtues of supporting businesses that help the community — both financially and in less measurable ways.

“Money spent locally pays off,” said McCoy. “For every $100 spent at a local store, approximately $48 stays in the community … If you spend that on a chain store, about $14 stays in the community … That’s a huge difference.”

Throughout the coronavirus shutdown, McCoy has questioned state directives that allowed wealthy big-box chain stores to remain open while small local businesses had to close.

“While many of our local small businesses continue to struggle to keep the lights on, big-box stores have announced record growth in quarterly sales and tremendous increases in e-commerce sales in the second quarter,” said McCoy on Tuesday.

Jack Yonally and his son, Mark, owners of B. Lodge & Co., a 145-year-old department street on North Pearl Street in Albany, spoke about generations of families that have come to their store for school uniforms.

When the store was able to reopen in June, Jack Yonally said, “Every customer that came in said, ‘Thank God you’re open again.’”

Among the good works undertaken by the store is distributing winter coats to inner-city children; last year, Lodge’s gave away 6,000 coats, Jack Yonally said.

“We employ your neighbors. We hire your kids. We give back to the community,” said Mark Yonally.

He also said that Lodge’s often offers better products at prices comparable to big-box stores or the same product at a better price. “We’re the lifeblood of the community,” he said.

“The big-box stores ran out of underwear but we didn’t,” said his father.

Jonathan Phillips, president and owner of Phillips Hardware, said his family had started their business in Albany in the 1880s. He has five children, he said, and is “praying for a sixth generation.”

He thanked the “loyal team members,” his employees who “stayed engaged during the pandemic,” selling needed safety items. 

“The pandemic gave me a sun that rised up,” said Phillips. “People really started to see the vulnerability of businesses not returning.”

He went on to speak of the important role that businesses have played in supporting not-for-profit organizations. Phillips started a campaign in Altamont, which he described as “a nice tight community” — he owns a hardware store on the outskirts of the village — raising money for STRIDE to help wounded warriors.

His store sold patriotic lawn ornaments to residents and businesses to show their support for reopening as a parade, following social-distance protocols, wound through the village. 

“We got Altamont lit up,” said Phillips. All profits from the sale of the patriotic solar lights are donated to Stride Wounded Warriors and special-needs youth athletes.

“If we can all come together, hopefully we can light up our Capital Region again,” Phillips said.

Susan Novotny, who owns The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland, said that being closed for three months impacted a lot of independent businesses. At her store, over 10 weeks of sales revenue was lost.

“I’m no stranger to competition,” said Novotny, noting that, since 1995, she has been competing with Amazon, which started in book sales before selling other items. She said no one could be faulted for going to online sales during the pandemic, which was a safe and convenient way to buy goods.

“Unfortunately ... it has become an ingrained habit,” she said.

She hopes that, with the fall back-to-school shopping and the upcoming holiday season that customers will again return to in-person shopping as her store celebrates its 45th year.

“We’re here for the  community in many ways that you don’t always see,” said Novotny, noting her store works closely with “at-risk populations and literacy programs.” This week, the store donated fun books to the Children’s Café in Albany’s South End, she said.

“What we need,” said Novotny, “is for you to stop buying your books from Jeff Bezos and start buying them from us independent booksellers.”

The Century House, a 70-year-old family business in Latham, is hurting with its wedding business being curtailed, said General Manager Monica LaBree.

Although patio dining has kept the business going since it was allowed to reopen, following strict state protocols, “It’s a quiet house,” said LaBree.

“We need to be able to dance to survive,” she said.

While currently parties must be limited to 50 people, she hopes soon that 75 guests will be allowed with family members able to dance with one another “so we can celebrate again,” she said, noting that often couples have been planning their weddings for years.

Many businesses are affected with weddings being curtailed, ranging from disc jockeys and florists to officiants and photographers, she said.

“We employ our neighbors,” LaBree said of local businesses, which also help the community. The Century House, she said, donates a meal to the regional food bank for every meal a customer purchases. The restaurant also supports local farms, she said, with its farm-to-table meals.

Nicolas Morales, a State Farm agent with an office on Central Avenue in Albany, said that, after his office windows were broken during protests following the death of George Floyd, an employee told him, “The reason why you did not really get hit is because you’ve been so involved with the community.”

Morales said, “I stayed after my office got hit because I saw a video that showed the person who actually broke my windows had nothing to do with the riots. He was a person going by.”

Morales, who is from Costa Rica, said, “A very smart man said to me once, ‘Although you grew up poor, never let the rich-kid syndrome get to you.’”

He explained, “The rich-kid syndrome is to think that everything is going to be OK … because Daddy took care of everything.”

Morales went on, “I was going to do OK like most immigrants did by getting involved. … This is everyone’s obligation to do something about. It is everyone’s job to make sure that we stay afloat.”

Noting that State Farm is one of the few insurance companies that “still sticks to the agent model,” Morales concluded, “I’m one of the only agents that has remained open through the entire pandemic … because most of our business comes from walk-ins … We work locally.”

McCoy concluded that Morales has lived the American Dream. “You came here as a foreigner,” he said. “You became part of the community.”

McCoy also said, “If you continue to not shop local … you’re going to see things slow down.”

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