When Janice Cyr heard that her rent was going up, she was worried.
“I felt this lump in my stomach,” she said. “I just thought, ‘we’re not going to be able to survive this.’”
In the end, the Shawangunk Running Company could not survive. The specialty sports store just off the corner of Main Street and Church Street in New Paltz closed on Oct. 8, about two years after it opened.
There were many factors. The banks had collapsed and the economy was not getting better. A technicality with a big-name distributor made it so the store couldn’t stock their most popular items for months. Then the rent went up an extra $430 per month.
“After that, we knew we had to leave,” said Cyr, who co-owned the store with business partner Jay Freedman.
Starting and maintaining a small business in New Paltz is hard, according to Cyr and other business owners in the town. The rent is high, the utilities are expensive, and traffic can be slow if the building is not located on Main Street. A drooping economy doesn’t help either.
Only a few months after Cyr and Freedman opened the store in 2008, the banks collapsed.
Consequentially, Cyr and Freedman had no start-up capital and no financing from banks. So they invested their own money into opening up the store.
“We were confident our ideas and enthusiasm were enough to make it work,” she said.
But problems continued to arise. There was already a sports store in town called Peak Performance. And although it was slated to close by the time Shawangunk Running Company had opened, it hadn’t.
Competition wasn’t the problem — distribution was. The company distributing big brand-name products could only sell to one store at a time, leaving Cyr and Freedman with little inventory and lesser-known brand-names for the first few months.
“Small retailers just suffer anyway, because you can’t buy in large quantities so you don’t get the good pricing that a big box store would,” she said. “But with this economy, people now are also just smart shoppers. There’s a lot of Internet shopping, and basically what specialty stores sell is personal service, not price.”
In Cyr’s case, it was getting fitted for the shoe, stride analysis, free clinics once a month, and getting the right gear to correspond with a certain activity that her store was selling.
It was the lack of revenue that made it hard for Cyr to pay off her $2,200 rent every month, buy more stock for the store, pay her utilities and pay her employees.
Isabella Chisena, owner of Isabella’s Treasure’s on North Front Street in New Paltz, said she is worried that more businesses like Cyr’s will go under because of the rising rent. Chisena is a member of the New Paltz Downtown Business Association.
“It’s a shame,” Chisena said. “I often worry about the future of mom-and-pop businesses in this town.”
Part of the reason the store did not draw a lot of customers, according to Cyr, is that the store was not located on the main drag in New Paltz.
“The location was just one store off Main Street, but it hugely affected our business.” she said. “Local business owners who have had more successful businesses said, ‘you really got shafted with the location. If you had been on Main Street you would have done so much better.’”
Cyr estimated that in order to make ends meet, “and breathe comfortably,” Shawangunk Running Company would have needed to consistently sell in the range of $3,500 a week — or $14,000 a month — in sales.
That was before her landlord raised the rent to $2,630 per month for her second two-year lease, which she signed in May 2010.
When the store closed in October, she had to pay off the rest of the two years in rent.
“We just bought out the lease because we couldn’t afford it,” she said. “Utilities, insurance, payroll, inventory, reducing prices to sell it … in the end it would have been more expensive to have kept the doors open than to have it running.”
Now, Cyr is working on resolving the debt that has fallen on her since the store’s closing. Because she personally guaranteed all of the accounts the store held, it was solely her responsibility, not Freedman’s, to pay them back.
“I can’t tell you,” she said, when asked how much she owed to the banks. “It’s a lot. It’s a lot for me … it’s less than $50,000.”
Over the summer, her primary goal was to stop buying inventory and work on paying down her debt.
“Everything falls on me… it’s wreaked havoc on my personal life,” she said. “But I’ve put together my resumé and I will get back out.”
But Cyr also said she does not regret opening the store.
“You know, you don’t want to walk away from a job not having made a salary for two years and owing money…it kind of sucks,” she said. “But it’s a learning experience. I learned a tremendous amount. It’s an entirely different thing having your own business … can’t stress that enough. It’s a whole different world.”