“Support Us”: Facing a tough landscape, Harrisburg’s small businesses ask for your understanding, your patronage

Chantal Nga Eloundou

Counting Parmesan scoops. When Burger Yum owner Milan Naramcic first made the tough call to raise prices, that’s what it came down to—measuring and costing the price of every ingredient used to make his burgers and fries.

“We literally broke it down to every ingredient, including how much the sauce would cost us per bun,” Naramsik said.

As Small Business Saturday approaches, Harrisburg’s small business community wants you shop local ers to know they love you. Plus, running a small business is demanding and draining. cost? Through the roof. Margins? Razor-thin. But they love what they do and do what they love. With resilience and spunk, they keep quality up and prices down.

Many people dream of the leap from passion to business. They are experts in brewing beer, roasting coffee or making pottery. But then comes “all the things you should know,” said Andrea Grove, owner of Elementary Coffee Co. Accounting, budgeting, supply chain, HR, competition, marketing, licensing, taxes, signage, product mix.

“The business aspect always surprises people,” Grove said. “Most people are very shocked by the amount of endless, endless work involved.”

Starting and scaling a business “takes a different kind of personality,” agreed Jay Jayamohan, executive director of Harrisburg University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “It’s not like a job with regular pay. It’s a rollercoaster up and down.”

There are unexpected economic disruptions to manage (pandemic, anyone?), technology to keep pace with, and skilled, reliable people to hire, he said.

Then, Jayamohan added, small businesses benefit from the trends launched and nurtured by the corporate ecosystem’s big fish-atlasure yield, pumpkin spice.

“You’re riding the wave and marketing dollars of someone big,” he said.

Prices up, profits down

Without prompting, small business owners will share what their basics cost a year or two ago—and what they cost now. Potatoes, from $20 a case to $60. Chicken breasts, from 89 cents a pound to $3.99. Gloves for food handling, from $30 per case to $100. Gloves!

Business owners respond by raising prices, but only when they have to, they say. Otherwise, they would price themselves out of business.

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“We can’t just stop it,” Grove said. “We really try to provide stability with our products and what we offer and what people can rely on, and that includes pricing.”

What is left, they agree, is absorbing the increases without sacrificing quality.

“The portions have never changed,” said Burger Yum’s Naramcic. “I learned that people won’t care if the price is higher, but they will notice if the portions are smaller and the prices are higher.”

Supply chain disruptions have turned small business owners into scroungers. Abdul Moosa, owner of 717 Tacos, had to scramble for paper boats, diced tomatoes and mayonnaise. Any old alternative won’t do because customers expect consistent quality.

“Every day right now, when you go shopping, it’s a challenge,” he said. “You can’t even plan for it. You don’t know if the little cup will be there tomorrow. Then you start to harvest. “

The cost of getting the pricier supplies also skyrocketed.

“My shipping is up to 40%,” said Chantal Nga Eloundou, owner of Nyianga Store in midtown Harrisburg, retailer of African-made and sourced clothing, jewelry, decor and lotions. For the sake of her customers and for the sake of sending her stock home with them, she did not make the prices.

“I want people to come in and not just have inventory,” she said. “What should I do if everything is stuck here? I just have to take it in my small profit margin.”

Eloundou spends her days scrutinizing the quality of fabric samples sent from her supplier in Africa – and these are no mean Joan Fabrics cottons. She chooses designs. She coordinates with seamstresses in Africa who make dazzling skirts, dresses and dakkis. Her niece collects the finished products and ships them to Harrisburg.

“All the time, I’m on the phone,” Eloundou said with a laugh. – It’s 6 o’clock in the morning there, it’s midnight here, and then they start eating. I like to do it until I’m tired. I don’t sleep. I don’t get enough of it.”

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And unlike restaurants where regulars order the same dish every time, retail must be constantly restocked with new items to entice customers back, she added.

“My mind is constantly thinking of, ‘What next? What next?’ It’s a little different from what I have now,” Eloundou said.

People part

People. They cost money to rent and time to manage. In a buyer’s market where job candidates have choices, business owners say respect is the key to retention.

Moosa gives his staff the autonomy to implement their ideas, because they can “absolutely make a difference” just by streamlining the kitchen layout or serving salsa from a squeeze bottle instead of a tub.

“They take ownership,” he said. “They want to serve a good product.”

Just like the boss, employees want predictable hours and time with family, Moosa noted, so he does not take jobs on most Sundays and Mondays, and holidays are removed from the schedule well in advance.

“It gives them a better quality of life,” he said. “If you talk to anybody in the restaurant business, that’s what they’re looking for.”

At Burger Day, Naramcic’s staff of 15 includes people who have been with the homey comfort food restaurant since it opened in 2016. Employees are “happy with the pay,” he said, and with the camaraderie he tries to build through events and trips.

“They like the job,” he said. “They like the environment. It’s fun. I try to keep it fun.”

And, he added, “If the employees are happy, the customers will be happy.”

Still, small business owners have their own struggles. Tiny profit margins can’t accommodate such perks as health insurance, making state government and healthcare companies hefty competitors for talent.

Eloundou wants to improve her online sales capabilities, but there is no room in the budget for a reliable web master.

Grove worries about a future where small business owners simply “get along.” Jayamohan advises that owners pivot to capitalize on the business trends that are shifting around them.

“People talk about experiences more than buying things,” he said. “Can you create an experience? The keyword I would advise small businesses to think about is innovation. How do you compete against a bigger player? The biggest advantage that a small business has at the end of the day is that they are agile.

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Here’s what small business owners want you to know.

Supporting small businesses through a social media shout-out and a friendly welcome is free, said Grove, who maintains a Broad Street Market stand and her North Street store.

“There’s always the ‘spend your dollar there,’ but I also think a lot of places want to be remembered and recognized,” she said. “At the market, something we all love is when someone comes by and waves hi.”

“It’s all about people,” Naramsik said. “The costs are very high right now. Work is worth it 100% because if it wasn’t for the employees, we wouldn’t be here. So, that’s definitely something I’ll never complain about. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes , but as long as the customers are happy it is worth it”.

The artwork Eloundou commissions for her store depicts happy African families and people going about their days, showing “that part of African culture I want to take wherever I go and be authentic.” The bills are always coming in, but she loves her job for the business impact, the cultural impact and “a challenge that comes with a reward.”

Now that the holidays are looming, shop local before you go online, she added.

“Every type of business, support us, support us, support us,” she said. “Harrisburg and the surrounding area, we have enough small businesses that we can really do amazing things.”

Shopping local

This holiday season, we ask you to support Harrisburg’s small, independent shops, restaurants and other businesses. The businesses mentioned in this story include the following:

717 tacos
Various places in central PA
www.717tacos.com

Burger Day
400 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
www.burgeryum.com

Elementary Coffee Co.
Broad Street Market and 256 North St., Harrisburg
www.elementarycoffee.co

Nyanga Store
1423 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg
Facebook: Nyianga Store

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