Amid a pandemic, local businesses have one advantage over large chains: character

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Jackson Spenner

The Amazon 4-Star Store on Burlingame Avenue advertises trends and highly-rated products.

Jackson Spenner, Staff Reporter

Burlingame Avenue has a new kid on the block, and it’s not a family-owned restaurant, homemade gift shop or frozen yogurt pop-up. 

It’s a 4-Star store, a physical extension of online retailer and web services provider Amazon, who is now valued at over a trillion dollars. 

 

“I had never gone into the Amazon store before because the line was always so long,” sophomore Marco Waters said. “But when I went in, I really liked it. They have low prices and a wide variety of items, something that other stores don’t really have.”

 

Unfortunately, the arrival of Amazon and other chain stores in Burlingame comes at a major cost to the community’s smaller businesses. For many of the mom-and-pop shops that decorate Burlingame Avenue, competition has become — simply put — impossible.

 

“We’re not big Amazon fans, as you can imagine,” Julie Ferrel, owner of Burlingame’s Paper Caper said. “Stores used to be closed on Sunday, and a lot of them on Monday. But as the corporate stores have come in with longer hours, we all have felt like we have to compete with that. Unfortunately, we’re not able to.” 

Ferrel, who has worked at Paper Caper for more than 19 years, has seen many shifts in the types of stores that reside on Burlingame Avenue. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering windows around the world, longstanding businesses like hers have had to take great lengths to stay open. 

“There’s only three of us left,” Ferrel said. “We’ve had to decrease payroll. We’ve lost suppliers and wholesale companies. Everybody, across the board, is having such a hard time.”

 

Paper Caper’s struggle is not unique; in fact, Five Little Monkeys, a toy and gift shop on Burlingame Ave, had to make similar sacrifices due to COVID-19. 

“When the pandemic first hit, we had to make layoffs,” Michele Tambini, Five Little Monkeys’ manager said. “We have five stores, and Burlingame was pretty much the only location making any money.” 

However, Tambini, who runs day-to-day operations at the toy store, considers the company lucky. Over the holiday season, Five Little Monkeys saw sales spike, with customers drawn to offerings like free gift wrapping and delivery, along with selection of specialty toys.

“We’re a small, independent company — we’re not a corporate entity, we’re a specialty store,” Tambini said. “I think that being a specialty store helps us; a lot of people travel from the Peninsula and San Francisco to visit us in Burlingame.” 

 

Ferrel sees the situation in a similar way. As a specialty store as well — selling custom paper and cards — Paper Caper has found a niche in the community. To her, there are aspects of local stores like Paper Caper that can’t be matched by chains.  

“People are so glad we’re still here,” Ferrel said. “We’re what gives a downtown area like Burlingame its personality and character. It’s no fun to come here and see just a row of chain stores, like in any city in the United States. We’re the lifeblood of the community.”

 

Amazon declined our request for comment on this story.