Small businesses struggle for dollars

As shoppers were asked to support small businesses nationwide Saturday, local small-business owners said it takes a lot to be successful in a tough economy, including providing a unique shopping experience, selling products that can’t be found anywhere else and looking for untapped revenue streams.

Montrose Shopping Park draws shoppers with its small-town character and special events for the holidays, said Alyce Russell, president of the shopping park’s merchants association and owner of Andersen’s Pet Shop.

On Friday, the park held a tree-lighting event for the first time, which included a promotion called White Friday, where participating stores wrote off the sales tax on items.

The festivities continued Saturday with pony rides, a horse-drawn carriage, Santa and live musicians playing holiday favorites, all of which will be offered Saturdays until Christmas Day.

Ken Grayson, who owns Grayson’s Tune Town in the Montrose distinct, said he’s had to make a major shift in his business over the years.

When his parents opened the store in the 1950s, they sold records and albums — and later cassettes. However, the Internet made downloading music so easy that most music stores had to close.

“That market has been destroyed by today’s world,” he said.

So Grayson focused on selling and renting musical instruments as well as offering music lessons, a move that’s kept him in business.

While Tune Town isn’t seasonal like a gift shop or clothing store, Grayson still sells as much in December as he does during two regular months, he said.

The Jelly Bean Factory in Burbank’s Magnolia Park has also seen a business-model change by branching into the corporate world, said Ira Lippman, who has owned the store for 31 years and is chair of the Magnolia Park Partnership.

The holidays are always a brisk sales time for corporate gifts, Russell said.

When alcohol fell out of favor as a corporate gift about 10 years ago, Russell seized the opportunity and started selling piña colada jelly beans in champagne bottles. It was a hit.

Kim Williams, who has owned the Enchanted Florist flower shop in Magnolia Park for 25 years, used her proximity to the nearby TV studios to her advantage.

She was originally in a tiny space adjacent to a dry-cleaning business on Riverside Drive in Burbank. Even back then, Williams had celebrity support.

“Dudley Moore would come in, pick up his dry cleaning and buy flowers from me,” she said.

When she moved to Magnolia Park, her association with the entertainment industry grew, and she currently provides flowers for the stars and guests of six TV shows including “CSI,” “The Mentalist” and “Suburgatory.”

While she does good business during the holiday season, sales for Thanksgiving and Easter have fallen dramatically in recent years, she said.

In Kenneth Village, about 10 shoppers were checking out items at the new gift/consignment store called Encore, which was opened two months ago by Glendale resident Marguerite Lincoln.

Located in the former Ivy’s flower shop, Lincoln uses the Internet and high-stock invitations distributed in the nearby neighborhood to get the word out about her store.

More and more customers are coming into Encore, not just to buy gifts, but to hang out because she’s created a gathering spot with a sitting area and free punch and brownies.

Creating camaraderie is essential for a small business to thrive, said Russell of the Montrose Shopping Park. “You can walk down the street and people know your name. That’s important.”

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