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Sitting on the banks of the Hudson River, 25 miles up the road from New York City, the village of Nyack, NY is home to just over 7,000 residents, a rich cultural heritage and a growing live-music scene. The town’s Main Street district has capitalized on its attendant charms, offering a plethora of locally grown establishments, including one thriving independent record, book and clothing store all in one.
Main Street Beat
Main Street Beat was founded in 2015 by musicians Amy Bezunartea and Jennifer O’Connor (and formerly shared the name of the record label they run together, Kiam Records). The store has been going strong now for several years, and captures everything that makes a successful Main Street business anywhere in the country.
“I think we’re kind of like a neighborhood one-stop shop for entertainment and gifts,” says O’Connor, who also has a new album out on Kiam this November. “We sell records, music, books, clothing, birthday cards, jewelry — we’ve sort of adapted to what our customers are looking for throughout the years. We basically wanted to sell all the things that we were interested in ourselves that we really couldn’t get locally.”
The Nyack residents and resident entrepreneurs recently connected by phone with Entrepreneur to discuss how they got Main Street Beat off the ground, overcame being relative business novices and their hope that owners of all backgrounds can stand a fighting chance.
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What were the origins of what’s become Main Street Beat?
O’Connor: We both had worked lots of different jobs and were interested in opening a retail shop throughout our lives, and we just decided after we moved here to to give it a go. We found a really good deal on rent and kind of the perfect location and had a little bit of an income flux, and it really has taken off and grown every year. Obviously, the pandemic has been a bit of a challenge but in a way it’s helped our business because we do something that people like to do at home. We sell stuff that people bring into their homes and don’t have to go out to do.”
What kind of hurdles have you faced so far?
Bezunartea: There’s so many. For me, to be honest, I think it’s assertiveness — the ability to set boundaries with customers, with the town, with employees. Our instincts to people-please cause difficulties. We’re this fun shop and carry all these things that everyone wants, but then that the other side of running a business is you have to very clearly say no to things and yes to things or it starts to affect your bottom line and the way you’re able to serve your customers.
Image credit: Main Street Beat
O’Connor: I’m going to say being able to learn from mistakes and not take them too hard and just kind of adapt and be flexible. We both kind of came into this without any real business background, so we’ve really been through a lot of trial and error. I think we also both have a pretty good natural business sense and are very hard workers, so that has really helped us. I’m still learning constantly. That’s kind of the fun of it.
Have you second-guessed yourself throughout this process?
Bezunartea: Yes, all the time. It’s like you’re in this fantasy about what it will be like to run your own business and have a little shop. And if you’re a working-class person, it’s a major financial risk with lots of ups and downs. It’s really hard to keep up the stamina, the excitement and will to keep doing it because it is incredibly hard in every way.
O’Connor: I second guess myself all the time, but it’s good to have a good partner. We work really well together as a team, and I think that makes second-guessing myself happen a little bit less, because we’re really getting into a groove where we can make better decisions more quickly. We have a pretty good outlook about the future and what we might need to do in order to continue doing it and maybe grow — a pretty good outlook today, anyway.
Besides the bottom line, what have been the biggest rewards?
Bezunartea: I think I’ve learned so much and grown so much as a person. Taking on so many challenges and getting through the last couple of years, through Covid and so many things — it’s just been a massive crash-course education, and not just in business, but in community and real-estate marketing and just everything I could ever imagine. So it’s been a really wonderful education that I don’t know owe any student loans for.
O’Connor: I agree, I think it’s definitely made me a stronger person. Beyond that, I think it has been very rewarding to be part of a nice community like Nyack and really get to know a lot of people in town. And just the day-to-day life at the store; there’s a lot of really wonderful moments with customers, too. We have a lot of regulars, and they’re the reason that we’ve had the level of success we’ve had. It’s a fun place for people to come down to, and that’s something that I’m proud of having created with Amy. That was a really big part of my growing up, shopping for records, books and things like that. It’s cool to see people, especially young people and their parents, exploring that. It’s cool to be part of that and to help foster that in the community.
How do you view the future of small business in this country?
Bezunartea: I feel so hopeful for small businesses and also so full of empathy and concern for them at the same time. We need them more than ever, but as the cost of living goes up, it’s harder and harder for people to take that risk [of starting a business]. You look at immigrant communities across the country and how there’s so many enterprising businesses people opening salons, restaurants, any kind of little business, and it revitalizes entire towns and communities.
O’Connor: You woll learn so much, you’ll grow as a person, you’ll hopefully make a living at it. It’s the American Dream, right? Hopefully it can remain so. Small businesses are such a great part of small communities like ours, and people want to be able to have them in their town, and they go out of their way to support them.