By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Neighborhood groups have been kicking off the holiday season this past week with events aimed at promoting local businesses as shopping destinations as well as consumer safety during a busy time of year for crime. Department of Consumer Affairs commissioner Julie Menin was on the Flatiron’s south public plaza last Thursday to remind consumers to be vigilant while shopping during the holidays and the Union Square community kicked off the holiday shopping season with free professional portraits in the pavilion on the north plaza on Sunday.
Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, said that this year was the first time portraits were offered. “We’ve been doing some new community events but this one is really to kick off the holiday season,” she said. The schedule was booked for the day and Falk noted that people were having their photos taken with family and some people even brought their pets. “We’re excited that the community is coming out,” she said, adding that this is one of the new holidays programs the Partnership is adding this season.
The Association for the Help of Retarded Children (AHRC), based in Lower Manhattan, usually takes a weekly field trip to Union Square on Sundays. They meet at the Barnes and Noble across from the north plaza and were able to get a group photo because they happened to be in the area. Leroy Dyer, the program supervisor, takes the kids on recreational trips every weekend and he said that the kids were excited that the event happened to coincide with their weekly outing.
Meanwhile, Menin was at the Flatiron Plaza doling out tips on how New Yorkers can get the most for their money during the busy shopping season. She cited the list of “10 Things Every Consumer Should Know,” which is available on the city website at nyc.gov/consumers. The list includes tips about making a budget, being alert for holiday scams and being aware of consumer rights.
“We want to support small business and make sure that hardworking New Yorkers get the most for their money,” Menin said. She added that some of the important tips to keep in mind are to compare prices and be aware of stores’ refund policies. Parents should also be particularly aware of product recalls, which can be checked through the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website at cpsc.gov.
“We want residents to be aware of all the great small businesses that are here, regardless of the neighborhood, but we do have a lot of both independent and national businesses in the Flatiron District,” Flatiron BID executive director Jennifer Brown noted at the event. “There’s something for everyone here. We want to encourage people to shop local and help independent businesses thrive.”