Do Packer Students ‘Care’ About Small Businesses?
Pictured above: According to reports, beloved Pacific Green Gourmet was forced to close after the landlord refused to renew the lease.
Many years ago, the Brooklyn Heights streets were filled with family-owned restaurants and trendy boutiques; now, among the large chains, expensive restaurants, and overpriced juiceries, it is rare to stumble upon a small business. Our community is founded on the principles of care, heart, and being aware of the impact that we have: Do these same values extend to making choices regarding money? When making food choices, do Packer students care about supporting small businesses?
Having to compete with giant companies like Starbucks, smaller, local places such as Espresso Me or Vineapple often go unnoticed. While some Packer students do add small businesses to their out-to-lunch repertoire, such as Monty Q’s, Nanatori, and Lantern Thai, these stores are an exception. The only small-business that is widely supported is Sunny Delicatessen, more commonly known as Harry’s, which is less than a two minute walk from Packer.
After school, during breaks, or between classes, Harry’s is the common place for students to pick up snacks, from candy to coffee.
“When the question is Harry’s or Duane Reade, I will always go to Harry’s,” explained Gabe Thin (‘22). Joe, the beloved owner of Harry’s, also notices this connection: “We enjoy [having students here] and they like us, so we try our best.”
Harry’s has been around for many years; Joe has worked at the deli for 10 years, but before that, his family owned the deli for 30 years. Despite the support Harry’s gets from the local community, it still struggles to survive amid New York City’s high leases. The deli will be forced to raise their prices once their lease expires in five years, making it difficult for the store to survive; small businesses throughout the city have found themselves experiencing the same predicament.
“There are not many small businesses, because a lot of them are driven away by big chain stores,” said Joe on the effects of hiked rent prices.
Another small business that has been gaining popularity among Packer students is Perelandra. The manager at the store, Allison Buckingham, explained that she has seen a recent surge in customers, especially students, at the store. After renovating and enlarging its kitchen, Perelandra is a thriving spot; that being said, the store still faces the same challenges of being a smaller business in New York City.
Since Perelandra specializes in health food, natural ingredients and products, some might assume that not much competition exists for such a specialized business. However, according to Ms. Buckingham, the contrary is true: “The amount of competition in this industry is tremendous. Whole Foods has many stores. Trader Joe’s has a store, and then another store like six blocks away.”
Ms. Buckingham is grateful that Perelandra has survived and is still teeming with customers, but she is definitely noticing a trend around which businesses are able to survive in the neighborhood.
“I have worked [at Perelandra] for 18 years, and just in that amount of time, I have seen this neighborhood change, as far as the business that are able to survive. On Montague Street, half the businesses are banks–they are the only ones that can afford the real estate,” she said.
The decline in small businesses and increase of larger-scale corporations has been noticed by many Packer students, but has elicited different reactions. While many Packer kids do support small businesses, they also frequent chain stores, which are often more affordable and accessible.
“I would like to support [small businesses] but Starbucks is cheaper,” Charlotte Drake-Dunn (‘19) explained. While it depends on the store, the cost to run a small business can sometimes be higher than that of running a large business, causing a surge in pricing, especially in places that have expensive rents like Brooklyn Heights.
“On Smith or Court, a lot of local stores are closing down and big chains are opening up. It is good in some ways, but it also has disadvantages,” said Gabe.
Some students mindlessly flock to what is most accessible or the crowd favorite; however, Ray George (‘19) has a strong stance on supporting small businesses. He likes supporting businesses where he is friendly with the people working behind the counter. Furthermore, he claims that the prices at many small businesses are actually more affordable than at large corporations.
“I want to keep my neighborhood and my city’s culture [by supporting small businesses],” he said.
While Starbucks, Chipotle, and other large businesses can seem like quick and accessible options, it is important to consider the implications that purchases can have, and the importance of small businesses to our neighborhood’s essence.