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Internet cuts deeply into local businesses

Many merchants experienced a less than stellar holiday season this year, but feel it could have been a much better.

Longtime customers of businesses on the E. Tremont Avenue shopping strip and elsewhere – including insurance agents, travel agents, shipping suppliers, florists and others – seem to be heading to their computers rather than to their neighborhood.

The president of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association, John Cerini, said that he thinks that customers should consider all that the merchants have to offer before heading to the nearest computer and buying over the Internet. He said they might promise better deals, but often fail to deliver on customer service and price.

“We want to stress to the community that we appreciate it when they shop in our stores,” Cerini said. “We all want a vibrant community that includes a thriving business district, and no one likes to see vacant stores. We ask that customers experience what our shops have to offer before going outside of the neighborhood.”

Cerini said that whether it comes to buying cigars or banking online, customers need to consider not only who is offering the lowest price, but also who gives them the best deals in terms of customer service, quality, and personal consideration.

Sherry Scanlon, president of the Pelham Bay Merchants Association and co-owner of Pelham Bay Home Center at 3073 Westchester Avenue, said that while many merchants want to get on the Internet for advertising purposes, she has seen customers that were short-changed on service.

“We have had people come into our store who had purchased water-heaters online and were now having problems and asking our advice,” Scanlon said.

Cerini said that when it comes to understanding the unique needs of a neighborhood customer no one could match area businesses.

“When customers come to a neighborhood brokerage, we care about our clients because this is how we feed our families,” he said. “It is like Cheers – ‘where everybody knows your name.’”

Anthony Mancini, owner of Anthony’s Flower Farm at 3240 E. Tremont Avenue, said that many people are overcharged for flowers and gift baskets when purchasing them through nationwide web-based companies.

“Around the holidays there are people we call order gatherers who flood the airwaves and newspapers,” Mancini said. “They take orders at outrageous prices and then call florists like us to fill the orders. This hurts us because it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the customer. They begin to think flowers are a rip-off after being charged $75, by ProFlowers or Flowers Today, for a $45 gift basket.”

Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at 718 742-3393 or procchio@cnglocal.com

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group