Longwood store managers happily report an increase in traffic and sales in this year’s back-to-school shopping season, but say that a variety of factors since pre-pandemic days have changed shoppers’ demands and tastes.
Four days before schools opened on Sept. 7, José Caraballo stood at the front of the bustling Snipes shoe store he manages on Southern Boulevard.
“They’re shopping at the last minute because they haven’t had time to come out,” he said, gesturing to customers browsing the aisles and trying on sneakers.
But despite the bright orange lighting around the store and rows of colorful shoes and clothing, his biggest seller this year has turned out to be black sneakers.
“Charter schools have gotten strict with their dress code,” he said.
Many charter schools in the South Bronx require students to follow a dress code, typically involving neutral colors and prohibiting words on clothing. Black shoes paired with clothing in muted colors are in fashion this year — if only by necessity.
Orri Shoshany, whose family has owned Jean Star on Southern Boulevard for over 40 years, says pants like jeans and khakis go out the door fastest this fall.
“Anything black, navy, burgundy,” he said. He estimates that 80% of his customers are from Longwood.
The Amazing Discount store on Westchester Avenue, meanwhile, benefits from a lot of foot traffic in the neighborhood.
“The location is accessible,” said store supervisor Lamim Kaddi. “It’s a business street, so a lot of people are just passing in their cars. A lot of people use the street daily.”
And although school supplies, namely composition books, are big sellers, other shoppers are looking for more than that this year.
“Families are moving in before the school year, so they come in to buy furniture,” said Kaddi, gesturing to the aisles of furniture on the left side of the store.
“Business is not what it used to be,” said Shoshany of Jean Star. “The last few years have been tough because of COVID, but people are starting to feel more comfortable coming out.”
The coronavirus pandemic revolutionized retail, forcing potential customers to stay home rather than shop in local stores. A 2020 Deloitte report on retail in and after the pandemic notes that it has accelerated a trend away from brick-and-mortar retail and towards e-commerce.
But Shoshany has seen other sources of customers. He noted that the area’s increasing tourist traffic has bolstered his business.
“Tourists want to see what the other side of the city is about,” he said, and when they come into his store, they often want to buy clothes or shoes.
But traditional back-to-school shopping is driven by families with young children—a demographic that has declined in the South Bronx. The number of households in the South Bronx with at least one child under 18 has declined from a five-year average of 46% in 2013 to 39% today, according to the American Community Survey.
Caraballo at Snipes finds that customers recently are making fewer impulse purchases and buying fewer items since the pandemic.
“They’re only buying what’s necessary,” he said. “Shoppers are more careful.”
Snipes, which acquired shoe store chain Jimmy Jazz in 2021, is owned by a German company, Deichmann S.E. The Southern Boulevard store was called Jimmy Jazz until early 2023, when it underwent a renovation and was converted to the Snipes banner.
Customers, so far, are satisfied, Caraballo said. “People like the energy.” He makes a point of greeting every customer entering the store.
Amazing Discount is also a new store, having opened only a few months ago, and Kaddi said his experience is similar. He, too, talks to many of the customers coming and going from the large store.
Kaddi summed up his philosophy after waving at a regular customer: “If they’re happy, we’re happy!”