BATAVIA – One could tell Denise Blau was smiling underneath her mask when recalling a touching moment that came from a customer the day before.
Blau, the owner of Sweetie's Sweet Shop in the downtown Batavia Boardwalk Shops, has a gingerbread man greeting customers on the outside of the door. Inside, it's decorated to feel as if it's a gingerbread house with oodles of candies and assorted treats awaiting to satisfy the next sweet tooth that wanders in.
"What really was a highlight for me was seeing a little girl outside," Blau recalled. "She walked up to my gingerbread man and gave him a kiss and patted him on the head...it's quaint. It gives people that old time feeling again that so many of us miss, especially [people] my age."
After all, Blau's nickname for the past 20 years is "Sweetie." It certainly fits.
"As long as everybody walks out happier than when they came in, [I did my job]," Blau continued. "I love to see [and] make people happy."
Blau and several other store owners on the Boardwalk are all in the same boat: With the program viewed as an incubator for small businesses, it gives them a decent chance to see what could come of it. The eight shops are expected to remain open through Dec. 20, when they'll close for the season.
Despite the challenges that have come with navigating the pandemic while starting a new business, Blau has maintained a positive outlook.
"It's affected us, but not quite as much as big stores," Blau said. "Because we let one family in at a time and it's not that many steps to the next store...It has truly affected us, for sure, but I think people feel safer here because one family at a time comes in."
Small Business Saturday served as a dedicated day for shoppers to support local businesses. The Boardwalk Shops certainly saw a healthy foot traffic throughout the afternoon.
Max Mong, the owner of Unboring Granola, says it's been an "incredible community to start a business in."
"As far as Small Business Saturday is going, it's been an incredible success," Mong said. "Today, you've seen, in my shop in particular, incredible business...It's really terrific to see so many customers come in and share with me that they're committed to spending 100% of their holiday dollars supporting local businesses. It's just incredible to see that."
"SBS is obviously been a huge success. We're all seeing a huge lift in our sales," Mong continued. "What's been great is: This has really been going since kind of the beginning of the season [In June]. We've had so many people recognize the big chains and the bigger businesses seem to be doing well and obviously, during this pandemic, a lot of the smaller businesses have been struggling."
"Just to be standing here...it's incredible. All of us [owners] will always forever drive by these shops and think about our businesses, and we're excited to support the new businesses that are going to be here next year."
Mong, who has worked in the food industry for 20 years, founded his granola business after discovering his talent for making it.
"I wasn't [initially] thinking about [starting] a business, I was just making granola and it really got a lot of very positive feedback," Mong said.
Mong spent about two years refining his recipe. He's now showcasing his talent to the public one bag of granola at a time.
The Unboring Granola is not a name Mong initially landed on. Feedback from friends and family helped shape its course.
"I got a lot of people, almost half the people, coming back to me and saying more or less the same thing: 'I don't really typically like granola, but I do like your granola' or 'If more granola tasted like yours, I'd probably eat it more.'"
Mong discovered granola is perhaps considered a boring or unpopular snack. It's his job to change people's minds, he said.
"I realized there was this really strong pre-conceived notion of what granola tastes like," Mong said. "I needed to create a name to communicate to people that my granola is kind of different than what you might think."
Mong estimates 90% of new Boardwalk shoppers don't typically come into his shop.
"It's nothing personal," Mong said. "I think it's because there's a such strong idea 'I know what granola tastes like and it's not really my thing.' What's been incredible is: so many people, over the last five or six weeks, have really started coming to my shop that have been to the Boardwalk and never [initially] stepped in."
"Because," Mong continued. "They're like: 'my friends are telling me your granola is really good'...It's classic word of mouth. This has just been an incredible experience."