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Small Businesses in New Jersey Town Adapt to Survive

People walk down one of the main streets in Teaneck, New Jersey, where small businesses are having a rough go of it during this latest economic downturn, September 2011.

Many small businesses in the United States are struggling these days because of the economic downturn, changes in technology, and competition from large national chains.

In the small town of Teaneck, New Jersey - not far from New York City - business owners are feeling this crunch. They are finding creative ways to cope with the situation.

Fourth-generation baker Richard Heisler is the owner of this 80-year-old kosher bakery in Teaneck New Jersey. Butterflake Bakery is one of the best-known bakeries in the New York metropolitan area. But Heisler said bakeries are a dying business.

“Forty years ago there was no place to go but a bakery to buy a loaf of bread, to get a piece of cake. Today the client has a myriad of choices to shop at,” said Heisler.

Those other choices include convenience stores and big chain grocery stores. Many of them have their own bakery inside the store, to provide fresh baked goods and confectionery items under one roof. Heisler is adapting to keep his clients.

“We have niched ourselves [created a niche for ourselves] being a nut-free bakery. We have niched ourselves to the community by challenging ourselves to come with new recipes that are creative. We also service more than just the Jewish community, which is a large staple of the Teaneck community. We also serve the Muslim community, the Hindu community, special dietary-need communities, whether it's gluten free... So we have found different avenues to increase our business,” said Heisler.

Cedar lane in Teaneck is home to some of the town’s oldest businesses. Some have reworked themselves to keep their clientele, but others have closed down. The president of Teaneck’s Chamber of Commerce, Larry Bauer, said most business owners do not know they can seek help from his organization.

“I think a lot of times they do not realize that we [the Chamber of Commerce] are here and when they start running into problems they don’t contact us. We can see what we can do possibly to help them be able to survive. Some businesses have gone out because the owners were up in their years; they wanted to retire. Instead of trying to find somebody that might want to take over their business they just close the business,” said Bauer.

To be able to survive, small businesses have to accommodate the needs of the local community, said the owner of the Teaneck General store. The store is a gift shop, and a kosher café with Wi-Fi. Owner Bruce Prince opened it about two years ago.

“The idea that a small business can cater to a community in a different way, be more mindful of what that community needs. Be mindful about prices, so part of what we do, we shop very carefully to guarantee, or hope to guarantee, a better price,” said Prince.

And as part of their efforts to survive - not only are the local businesses in Teaneck becoming more customer-specific - they also make a point of carrying the work of local artisans.