Drawing on 40 years of retail experience to help chart the way forward, David E. White knows this: It will not be business as usual
Photo: David E. White
HAVING OPERATED HIS eponymously named clothier since 1980, David E. White has learned a thing or two about diversifying operations to smooth out the quiet parts of the year. But the pandemic has been just as ruthless with his backup plans as it has been with his primary business, blocking his every attempt to wriggle free of its hold.
Connected to his shop on Queens Aveneue is his popular barbershop, which draws about 25 clients per day, many of whom pop next door after their trim.
“That was the first thing we closed down,” says White.
In addition to suits and other menswear, White has built an online business specializing in apparel for weddings. As hopeful brides and grooms know, traditional weddings are on hold indefinitely.
The other pillar of White’s online business is a niche serving the legal profession: shirts, waist coats, gowns and the odd velour bags in which lawyers carry their courtroom clothing. With court proceedings moving almost entirely online, that market is gone for now as well.
Last year, the pre-pandemic pressures of running an independent retailer had already prompted White to downsize. The move from 4,000 to 1,400 square feet of retail space, along with a pared down inventory, paid immediate dividends as White navigated the new pandemic realities.
“We had already gotten off the treadmill to some extent, focusing on back-to-basics, with a smaller space and inventory,” White, 67, says. “We will survive, but it will take many months and years. It’s not going to snap back to normal, and others will not survive with reduced sales in the coming months.”
With an outside-facing entrance, White re-opened in late May. “That was encouraging, but there was no foot traffic downtown. I mean none. We had days when no one came into the store.”
The barbershop reopened in mid-June, along with the entire sector, ready to serve the pent-up demand for professional grooming. That traffic helps the rest of the business, “but until we get offices functioning with people coming downtown, it will be difficult.”
White credits his long-term landlord, Sifton, for working with him, as he juggled things and managed to retain his four employees.
It’s not just local pandemic effects that will present White with challenges in the coming months. The entire fashion industry has been knocked off its traditional seasonal schedule.
“It goes right back to fabric mills, which weren’t able to supply garment makers as usual. That will ripple right through the industry. Many garments are made in Europe, and shipping will continue to be a challenge. There will be some things we just won’t be able to get. They just won’t be available,” White predicts.
But he is encouraged by the widespread desire to support local businesses. “I think that will roll through our local community and help a lot of businesses. In our case, it helps to have an established brand as well.” Christopher Clark