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Merchants in LI's downtowns look for a big lift from Small Business Saturday

Long Islanders turned to small businesses Saturday for holiday shopping, helping local businesses that have been struggling due to the pandemic. Newsday's Steve Langford has the story.  Credit: Newsday / John Conrad Williams Jr.; Corey Sipkin

Holiday shoppers crowded some Main Street storefronts Saturday to support small businesses that have suffered unprecedented revenue loss following months of closure and reduced foot traffic, even after the state reopened.

With downtown stores still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, merchants looked to local shoppers over the Thanksgiving weekend to deliver them a much-needed boost.

"COVID almost killed us, and we are fighting to stay alive like a lot of stores," said Debi Wickliffe, owner of The Catbird Seat in Sayville. "We are holding on tight, and we appreciate people coming out to support us and to keep us going because this is what a small town is about."

To mom-and-pop stores, Small Business Saturday is considered to be what Black Friday is to large-chain stores. This year in particular, business owners are counting on Saturday and the holiday season that follows to help them build a buffer against uncertainty this winter.

As coronavirus cases have surged, Joseph Garcia, president of the Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce, said there’s been a growing fear among the business community that there may be a second shutdown.

"It makes it more important that [during] the Small Business Saturday and this whole … season we get our sales up for our small businesses so they can be here next year," Garcia said.

While it’s too early to tell how weekend sales are going, Garcia said "everybody seems to be hopeful."

To many merchants, Saturday was a good day.

"Today is great. We are so happy that everybody came on this beautiful day," said Taylor Napolitano, daughter of Laura and Joe Napolitano, who own Back In Time, a vintage home décor store in Farmingdale.

Napolitano, who ran the store Saturday, said a lot is at stake for store owners like her parents.

"I think this year more than ever it’s just important that … we support the small businesses and keep them going because a lot rides on it," she said. "They put their lives into their business, and I just think that they offer so much. ... Seeing everybody come out today means the world to us."

To the north in Huntington, the initially quiet streets were bustling by late Saturday morning with shoppers in and out of stores.

At Book Revue, a cornerstone of Huntington for 44 years, general manager Julie Wernersbach said the usually sleepy Saturday morning turned out to be a busy one.

Since reopening its aisles for browsing in June, the bookstore has beefed up its online presence by offering curbside delivery and hosting virtual book talks with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Billy Joel.

"We’re making it work, but what does 2021 look like? We’re all bracing if we have to close again," Wernersbach said. "It’s better, but no one feels settled. It comes down to the community to decide to support us and we’ll be there for the community."

In Huntington, a section of Wall Street was closed off to create a walkable plaza with a giant Christmas tree in the middle. Signs reminded shoppers to wear masks and social distance, and Christmas music played.

Lily Bergh, who owns Little Switzerland Dolls & Toys in Huntington through three generations and 38 years, said Friday was her best day of the year for business. A line of customers waited at the register Saturday morning with arms full of toys.

"Everyone [who] lives here supports us locally," Bergh said. "We want someone to support our legacy and bring their children here. I’m so happy to see smiles again. The village is alive, and hopefully it will stay."

Susan Murphy, 64, was shopping at Little Switzerland with her two grandchildren, ages 3 and 2. She said she was picking toys to save for Santa to pick up and deliver.

"I’m trying to do everything local," Murphy said. "Stores are hurting and it’s important to shop for the kids soon and keep local stores going. The pandemic is getting bad and who knows what’s going to happen?"

In Northport, stores along Main Street were nearly filled to capacity — or half of their normal capacity as required by state guidelines. Some stores only allowed four to six people at a time.

Mask-clad shoppers lined the sidewalks and waited to go into jewelry and toy stores. A large crowd gathered on the pier at Northport Harbor. At the Main Street Cafe, the restaurant marked a surreal holiday season by decorating a Christmas tree on the sidewalk with blue surgical masks.

Lauren Ricciuti, 22, of East Northport, waited outside a jewelry store while shopping downtown with her family.

"Everyone had been good about wearing masks," Ricciuti said. "I didn’t expect it to be this crowded … . As long as everyone is abiding by the rules, it’s good to see people out here."

For Linda Figliozzi of Stony Brook, who has underlying conditions, the virus is a real concern.

Since March, the only place she has visited other than the grocery store is Rumpelstiltskin Yarns in Sayville, a yarn store on Main Street that offers knitting and crocheting classes.

"I came here to get out of the house and keep my sanity. [The store staff follows] all the CDC guidelines here, and I feel very safe," she said.

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