American Freight, a national home retail store, has opened its first Rochester store at 3333 W. Henrietta Road.
The store is known for affordable home furnishings by buying direct from factories and selling in warehouse-style stores. American Freight makes home furnishing items and appliances accessible to everyone with payment plan options for every customer, including no credit-required options and other credit choices with low, easy payments, officials noted.
“We’re excited to come to Rochester and give the community access to a wide assortment of quality furniture, mattresses and appliances,” said American Freight Chief Stores Officer Michael Gray. “By keeping our overhead low, we can offer everyday low prices on home furnishings while delivering exceptional customer service.”
American Freight offers same-day delivery, as well as an online presence for furniture, mattresses and appliances.
The company was founded in 1994 and last year combined with Sears Outlet, a leading national discount retailer of home appliances to create American Freight Furniture Mattress Appliance.
Livingston County Economic Development will award $300,000 in prizes through its Dream-O-Vate Business Competition.
Some 15 winners will share $300,000 in prizes that include training, funding and the essential resources and tools needed to successfully open a business, officials said.
“Starting a business is hard work, especially in today’s economy, said Bill Bacon, director of economic development for Livingston County. “Through the Dream-O-Vate competition, we hope to ease that transition into business for 15 innovative entrepreneurs. In doing so, we’re not only helping the winners, but also our existing businesses as we add to the critical mass in our communities.”
Officials said the county is seeking “makers, creators, movers and shakers” to open retail establishments that will enhance the visitor experience in and around nine historic Main Street districts. Applicants can be a new business start-up or diversification of an existing business.
“We’re hoping that the competition will attract new residents who are looking to make the move from city to country living,” Bacon said. “Our location in the beautiful Genesee River valley on the western edge of the Finger Lakes offers a rewarding lifestyle where you can make real connections and a big difference in a small community.”
Dream-O-Vate is a retail business plan competition that encourages entrepreneurs to compete for the chance to open a storefront and earn a business startup package. It is the second time the county has run such a program; a 2019 program helped nine businesses across five communities.
More information can be found at dream-o-vate.com. Applications are due by April 23.
The Village of Fairport Local Development Corp. LIFT Grant program has been expanded to provide cash assistance to village retail and restaurant businesses impacted by COVID-19.
The LIFT grant program was introduced in August 2020 to provide reimbursement for purchases of COVID-related supplies, services and renovations to enable businesses to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.
With the program expansion, retailers and restaurants in the village of Fairport that are forced to close due to required quarantine and isolation orders may be eligible for $100 per day, up to a maximum of $1,000, for each normally scheduled business day that the entity is closed due to COVID orders.
“We recognize the important role that our businesses play in making the village of Fairport a unique destination for shopping, dining and entertainment,” said Kevin Clark, FLFDC board chairman “This expansion will help our especially hard-hit village retailers and restaurants as they adapt to these ongoing challenges. The LIFE Grant program underscores our commitment to ensuring the future of the village of Fairport as a diverse and vibrant business district for residents and visitors alike.”
The program also will provide up to $1,000 to offset the higher costs of takeout supplies and third-party delivery fees incurred by village restaurants, officials said. More information can be found at fairportoced.org.
Where Rochester’s downtown once featured four department stores and two grocery stores, now there are none.
A quarter century after the last department store closed, in the places where all of Rochester once shopped, there’s a car museum, a large gravel lot and a stately building with papered-over windows.
The old five-and-dime is now a Social Security office, and there appears to be just one clothing store in all of downtown, offering sportswear for young men.
Retail has been on hiatus for some time downtown. Downtown experts say it’s never coming back the way it was, but there are some encouraging signs of new and different retail life:
This week’s Rochester Cocktail Revival.
This is the second year for both Rochester Restaurant Week and Roc Holiday Village.
Construction will begin in the fall on two projects in Sibley Square. One is the kitchen commissary, a food-business incubator run by Rochester Downtown Development, and the other is a food hall riffing on the success of places like North Market in Columbus, Ohio, and ethnic markets in New York City.
Late last year Rochester Institute of Technology opened a downtown art gallery.
Sibley Square is shopping around the idea for a new full-service grocery market on the ground floor, along the lines of the now-closed Hart’s, but about half the size.
Amid the high-tech startups and empty nesters flocking to downtown to live in luxury apartments, there’s also a growing number of eateries and devoted followings of two major festivals that bring in international headliners — the Jazz Fest and Fringe Fest.
In terms of traditional retail, you can still buy a few things downtown, such as fashionable kicks, comic books, art supplies and high-end furniture. For essentials, though, you probably have to go elsewhere.
“Do they sell handbags or cables? The answer is no,” said Ken Greene, asset manager at Sibley Square, the mixed-use project being redeveloped from the former Sibley’s department store.
Nevertheless, it is possible to buy any number of brewed coffee drinks, upscale meals, casual meals, vegetarian meals, craft beer and specialty cocktails, suggesting a shift away from material purchases and more toward experiential service retail.
“We see our retail becoming more service-driven for the community,” Greene said, noting the return of banks — with or without staff physically present — and the planned addition of urgent care.
“I think food and beverage is going to be part of the answer and you need a critical mass for that,” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp. Indeed, downtown Rochester’s population is about 7,200 now, double what it was in 2000.
So the restaurants that have been popping up around downtown are serving both an urban working crowd and an urban residential crowd.
The once-popular notion that retail stores will start to return from the suburbs once we hit a certain number of downtown residents, however, is a notion that has gone the way of the, well, department store.
A little thing like the “Amazonification” of retail happened since retail left downtown. That includes sales moving onto the internet, not to mention an entire industry that arose in the last few years to bring consumers whatever they need from brick-and-mortar stores.
You don’t need those stores near you if you have apps like Uber or Shipt or GrubHub or InstaCart.
“On-street, brick-and-mortar operations are not likely to come back,” said Zimmer-Meyer.
People are voting with their feet, however, that they do want to be ON the bricks — whether it’s the Jazz Fest, Midtown Eats or a winter village that was a huge hit at holiday time the last two Decembers.
“In this community it seems to me that we tend to do things in short spurts. We love festivals. Look at Roc Holiday Village,” Zimmer-Meyer said. “They had food and beverage and retail sales… people went nuts.”
Jenna Manetta-Knauf, owner of Bella Events and originator of the Roc Holiday Village, said she got the idea from New York City’s Bryant Park, which has ice skating in the winter and a series of pop-up shops and eateries in the holiday season.
The local event featured 20 retailers offering things from hand-made soap to funky furry hats. Food, drinks, music and ice-skating all encouraged people to hang out and do their holiday shopping, and groups could rent heated igloos to hold their own parties.
Manetta-Knauf said sales exceeded expectations, with vendors telling her they experienced the highest number of sales in their business’s history.
“It was crazy,” she said.
Events like that are shaping how people shop, Zimmer-Meyer said.
“It’s an experience, all about the experience. That’s one of the things we’ve heard continually about the whole national debate about retail,” Zimmer-Meyer said.
Pop-up retail is becoming more popular in Rochester too. Earlier this year Sibley Square hosted a pop-up vintage furniture sale that did well, Greene said.
Manetta-Knauf manages the Wilder Room in the former Rochester Club and that space was booked for a pop-up women’s fashion retail event.
Designers use their social media following to advertise an event and then set up shop, perhaps with a bar, other refreshments and music, in an event space. The Wilder Room isn’t the only one designers have used for pop-up sales.
“Once or twice a year they pop up in different spots and people go and buy their stuff,” Manetta-Knauf said.
While these pop-ups and festivals are all part of the evolving retail picture, Zimmer-Meyer said Rochester could use a coordinating organization to make sure they keep happening, she said.
She noted the vibrant winter scene Ottawa enjoys, where the community celebrates its frigid temperatures.
“This is what I want Rochester to be all the time,” she said. Downtown Rochester draws crowds during events like the Jazz Fest, she said, but there isn’t much residual effect. “The festival ends and everyone goes home,” she said.
Greene suggested downtown is going through an evolution of sorts that is dependent on both numbers and demographics of new residents and daytime occupants.
“As downtown continues to grow, you’ll start to see hair salons and nail salons. You’ll start to see drycleaners, more daycares. There will be service-related retail,” he said.
When Sibley’s leased space to Monroe Community College, Rainbow, a discount clothing store, was a good fit for community college students. But now that MCC has its own downtown campus and Sibley’s is adding 280 apartments, a more upscale store to serve the new residents is in order, Greene suggested.
Similarly, bodegas have sprung up downtown to accommodate tens of thousands of bus riders who come through the RTS transit station downtown. There are three in a two-block stretch of North Clinton Avenue, Greene said. As the population of downtown residents increases, those residents will need a more expansive food market, he said.
“There are just so many obstacles to successful retailers in downtown Rochester,” Greene said. One is parking — Rochester-area residents still want to park within three rows of a store, like at a mall. Then there’s a shopping nostalgia, which he described as “A psychological barrier in trying to recreate the retail experience of the past.”
People do hanker for the past, Zimmer-Meyer said, at least in terms of finding a central place to inhabit together.
“With everybody doing stuff online, and operating so individually, there is a human need to come together,” she said. “We love coming together for special things. For special reasons. We’ve got to look at what’s happening in other cities that are doing a far better job” of that year-round.
A few years ago, Tanvi Asher went from designing medical product packaging for a local manufacturer to designing and selling clothing in a tiny, out-of-the-way studio and shop.
Today, the creator of Shop Peppermint has a premier spot and all the visibility she could want in the Culver Road Armory.
She recently opened a second boutique on Park Avenue, and maintains a studio nearby where she designs what goes into her stores and is sold to nine shops across the country. Her designs and store are regular features of Rochester’s Fashion Week, and she’s been part of discussions about the resurgence of commercial activity in Rochester. Oh, and she has a boutique on wheels, too, a vehicle in the style of a food truck except it sells clothing and accessories.
While Asher has arrived in Rochester terms, she’s still juggling the right balance for her expanding businesses, trying to decide what the appropriate mix of retail and wholesale is and trying to respond to market demands.
For instance, while the colorful prints that are Peppermint’s hallmark are quite popular in Rochester and the stores she supplies elsewhere, Asher found herself constantly fielding this question: “Do you have it in black?”
She understands, she says.
“We live in the Northeast. Most people wear black.” So last fall she opened Salty, a boutique she describes as “the monochromatic sister of Peppermint.”
Peppermint, which opened in a tiny storefront on Meigs Street in 2011, appeals to a youthful customer, Asher said. At Salty, young women and their mothers both find styles they like. “We’re aiming for a wider audience.”
Asher also responded to market demands in other ways. When Peppermint moved to the armory in 2016, she decided to expand the number and kinds of gifts she was carrying that feature Rochester and the Finger Lakes since there is no “made in Rochester” kind of store in the area. The line has proven to be a popular seller at Peppermint.
“She’s one of the most inspirational people I know,” said Nick Giordano, a good friend and business confidant. Giordano owns Dorje Adornments, a Park Avenue shop that specializes in gold and precious stone jewelry for piercings. He added, “She’s constantly driven, constantly creating and constantly innovating.”
Giordano said Asher brings a devotion to Rochester, evidenced in both the Rochester-themed gift line she carries and her participation in community events. And she brings diversity to the business community.
“She is an immigrant who is making quite the stamp on our city, which is really important in our current political climate,” Giordano said.
Asher launched a fashion truck to be able to go to places where designer clothing often isn’t available, including rural festivals and events. And the truck has items that sell for $30 or less, a price point lower than usually seen in boutiques.
“It goes to areas where they only have access to Walmart,” she said. “It’s inexpensive and accessible.”
Not that what her shops sell is particularly expensive, though that often surprises new customers.
“Every day I hear: ‘I wasn’t coming in here because I thought it would be so expensive,’” Asher said.
Born in India, Asher was a year old when her parents, both photographers, moved to Dubai for work. She came to the United States in 2000 when she was 17 and earned an undergraduate degree at Buffalo State. Rochester Institute of Technology’s strong co-op program attracted her to a master’s degree in industrial design, she said.
A three-month co-op job for a beauty products designer in New York turned into a year and a half, Asher said, but ended with the financial collapse in 2008. She returned to Rochester and started contract work for Bausch & Lomb on medical packaging and began making clothes on the side, selling them in open-air markets.
Asher and her husband, Jeremiah Parry-Hill, decided after she was laid off from B&L that she would rent a 450-square-foot space on Meigs Street with a small storefront and room for a small studio in back. Her studies at RIT had focused on making clothing patterns, and the studio would help put her skills to work.
She attended a trade show in Las Vegas to identify suppliers and manufacturers to make her designs. A few months, later, in March 2012, she opened her store with a handful of designs, all manufactured in New York State.
“The first day we opened, we made rent for three months,” Asher said, noting an early sign of the business’s continuing success.
Six months later, she set out to find a loan so she could expand, based on the business she had amassed so far. But that was easier said than done.
“It’s really hard to get a loan if you’re in retail. It’s harder if you’re a woman. If you work for yourself, forget it,” Asher said. A bank would only loan her the money if her husband, who had a job at the RIT library, co-signed.
Before the end of Peppermint’s first year, Asher moved into a space nearly twice as large in the same building, but this time facing the much busier Park Avenue.
“Facing the main street made such a difference,” Asher said. People stopped for the light at Park Avenue and Meigs Street would notice her display window. The additional space allowed her to include other artisans’ work.
In 2016, Peppermint moved out of the building at Park and Meigs and into the armory, replacing a men’s shop.
“We needed more room, more visibility,” Asher said.
Peppermint’s retail space in the armory is twice as large as her last store, but there’s little room for storage and none for a studio, Asher said. As a result, she now rents a separate studio spot, and Peppermint no longer carries shoes. (They can be found at Salty, instead.)
“Knowing what sells is important. I never felt like I had to provide for everything,” Asher said.
Besides the higher visibility, the armory is well maintained, Asher noted. There are no long-term leaky ceilings, which Asher said she experienced previously.
“I just needed a landlord that would treat us like proper tenants,” she said, and “take our business more seriously.”
Asher employs nine people between the two stores and the studio, and needs more. She alternates days Monday through Thursday at the stores, and devotes Friday and Saturdays to design work. She tries to squeeze in a few morning hours before the shops open on weekdays too.
“I really don’t want to be on the floor. I need to be producing,” Asher said. Peppermint’s line is currently represented in nine stores, including in Arkansas, Texas, Georgia and California. She also sells to online stores, and directly to consumers online.
“I always wanted Peppermint to be a wholesale line,” Asher said, but growth of the retail business has kept her busy. Up until recently, Asher said, wholesale represented 60 percent of her business. Today it’s about 50 percent. As a whole, though, the business continues to grow. She surpassed six figures in annual sales a couple of years ago, Asher said, and has been growing by 20 to 30 percent each year.
“I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to rock the boat too much,” Asher said. “I would like to grow the wholesale side again.”
If history is any guide, that growth will continue to happen quickly, one step after another.
Said Giordano, “A woman of her education and talents can really do what she’s doing in any big city, but we’re lucky to have her here in Rochester.”
In a time long ago and far away, before teenagers began to walk around absorbed in in a handheld device all the time, they went to the mall.
They met their friends there, played in arcades there, grabbed a snack and – perhaps most importantly for the economy – they shopped there. And so did their parents and their grandparents – well, maybe not the arcade part. The grandparents might even have been spotted walking the mall early before the stores opened in the morning to get their exercise.
But changing demographic and consumer patterns, much of it owing to the onslaught of easy online shopping led by mega-retailer Amazon, is forcing brick-and-mortar malls to rethink themselves in order to grab a share of the consumer dollars and time that are being spent elsewhere. Some experts say the changes may even drive a difference in the way mall real estate business is conducted.
“On a macro level, there’s no question that online commerce has created a headwind for brick-and-mortar sales,” said Dennis Wilmot, senior vice president for leasing and development at Wilmorite Corp. The company owns Eastview Mall, Greece Ridge Center and Marketplace Mall in the Rochester area, as well as malls in other parts of the country.
Online activity has also shaped how people interact – in malls and elsewhere. Teenagers communicate with their friends by Snapchat and other online apps. They shop for their prom gear online. Parents might go to the mall to return the items they ordered online in multiple sizes, but they stay home to watch movies through streaming services instead of visiting the mall multiplex. And even the grandparents – aware they can get a better buy on Zappos — might be buying their walking shoes online instead of in long-gone local mall stalwarts Altiers or Thom McCann.
“The value of the store and the value of the shopping experience is going down,” said Raj S. Murthy, the J. Warren McClure professor of marketing at Rochester Institute of Technology.
The economic impact of that trend is substantial: “2017 was one of the worst years for brick-and-mortar retailers,” Murthy said. Approximately 8,000 stores closed nationally, he said, a 220 percent increase over 2016. “It’s an accelerating trend.”
“There’s no doubt there is a shift in consumer expenditures,” Wilmot agreed. “However, I think the notion that Amazon is going to be the death knell of brick-and-mortar is grossly overstated.”
Across the globe, owners of retail malls have already been adapting to the new reality, just as Wilmorite’s Marketplace Mall is evolving into an entertainment and outlet mall. Eight traditional stores have converted to a discount model, Wilmot said, but that doesn’t preclude full-price stores from operating. Other options, including non-retail, are a possibility.
“The good news with Marketplace: we’ve got a few things we’re working on that could be transformative for the property,” Wilmot said.
And as for a certain Scandinavian homewares and furniture store coming to Henrietta? Wilmot only said anything’s possible, but deals take time. He noted it took 15 years between the time Wilmorite pitched to L.L. Bean and the venerable New England-based company opened a store at Eastview Mall.
Retail and mall experts say the following trends are shaping the malls properties of the future:
Entertainment playing a bigger role. Researchers for McKinsey & Company, a marketing and retail consulting company, wrote in a 2017 report that “malls of the future will be less about in-store shopping and more about giving people novel in-person experiences they can’t get on their smartphones—what some call retail-tainment.” Examples include the amusement park in Minnesota’s Mall of America, or the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame at the Meridian Mall. Locally, this trend has been seen with RPM Raceway and Dave and Busters taking over space formerly used by Bon-Ton department store at Marketplace Mall in Henrietta.
Shrinking apparel stores, or smaller apparel sections of department stores, so space can be devoted to other uses, particularly restaurants. “Apparel occupies less square footage in a mall,” as more experiential tenants take up more space, Wilmot said. McKinsey reports that some Chinese malls are devoting 40 percent of their space to food and beverage options now, leading a trend that Americans are starting to follow. At the Greece mall, Wilmorite remade one wing to feature restaurants and bars a few years ago. With the recent addition of furniture retailer Ruby Gordon, Wilmot said, “in terms of occupancy, we’re in the best position we’ve been in in years.”
Click-and-collect shopping. This is a hybrid of online and in-person shopping in which the consumer orders on-line, but is able to get purchase more quickly by picking up at a local store. European consumers have been doing this for more than six years, while most American shoppers are still neophytes at shopping this way, according to a September 2017 report by the International Council of Shopping Centers. Murthy’s all in. “Once you know your brand and your fit, what is the point of going to the store?” he asked. A Gen-Xer with a 3-year-old child, he enjoys the ease of curbside pickup provided by online ordering service from Wegmans. Murthy trades a service fee for buying groceries in one-tenth of the time. He also avoids having to buy a Hot Wheels car to occupy his son, “and anything he could throw into the cart or throw out of the cart.”
Fewer national retailers or anchor stores driving mall traffic. Click-and-collect shopping, Wilmot said, “is driving traffic to the stores. But what it’s also doing is it’s eroding the store’s productivity.” As a result, he predicted national stores will chose to have just one store in a community of Rochester’s size instead of three or four. The current online shopping model sees about 40 percent of purchases returned, and customers would prefer doing that without shipping charges. With more and more people entering malls for returns or purchases that take place online, McKinsey suggests, malls may have to offer a different kind of rental price structuring that relies on footfalls rather than store sales.
More local and unique stores and experiences. “More people go to public markets now and it’s not just because of price. It’s also for the public experience,” Murthy said. McKinsey reports that public space in malls is growing to as much as half in some places. “When this happens, these expanded public spaces will need to be planned and programed over the year much like an exhibition.” Hipster shoppers expect a more curated experience, willing to spend more on a single shopping trip or restaurant meal that’s special, even if that means less frequent expenditures, Murthy said. Local malls have started looking regionally to help create these unique experiences, bringing in the Village Bakery from Pittsford, Happy Earth Tea from the South Wedge.
Malls that no longer strive to be one-size-fits-all. Within the three malls Wilmorite manages in the Rochester area, Eastview is trending toward luxury brands, Marketplace is evolving to an outlet mall, and Greece Ridge “really is everything under one roof in terms of big-box stores,” Wilmot said. “Every mall is taking its own course.” Nationally that trend is also underway, with some malls proving the luxury experience, particularly with higher levels of service, and others catering to the value-driven customer. “I think retailers have become more skewed to value these days because of the pricing transparency that has been created by the internet,” Wilmot said.
Most experts seem to agree that retailers who embrace change are those who are most likely to navigate the whirlpools and eddies of consumer trends successfully. Wilmot, in particular, remains optimistic.
“Malls still have very powerful locations in terms of draw and convenience that will provide the platforms for these concepts to come into the market,” Wilmot said. “The malls that are still standing will be … in an even better position than they were before. A flight to quality, if you will.”
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