October 2016- 20 Questions: The business doc is in


Peter Whitmore

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December 2015 Business Scene

St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner at SUNY Potsdam

The St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commcerce held its 2015 Annual Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 5, at SUNY Potsdam. 

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Business owners say limited effect from partial return of Fort Drum’s Black River gate

BLACK RIVER — Businesses near the post say the partial reopening of Fort Drum’s Black River gate will do little to help them. [Read more…]

Local business owners say increase in minimum wage could affect staffing, prices


Back-to-back years of 75-cent increases to the state’s minimum wage have taken a toll on small businesses, whose managers say they’re going to need to either raise prices or cut back on labor to swallow the extra expense.

Effective Wednesday, the state’s minimum wage jumped from $8 to $8.75 an hour; last year on New Year’s Day, it climbed from $7.25 to $8. The three-year wage hike will end next year, when the wage will climb by 25 cents to $9.

David C. Sherman, who opened Momma’s Kitchen restaurant in October at 450 Gaffney Drive with his wife, Diana L., said Wednesday that his six part-time employees will see an increase in their wages. He said the extra payroll expense will be difficult to cover for the startup, which offers an array of homemade deli sandwiches and baked goods.

“It’s a pretty big chunk out of our payroll,” Mr. Sherman said. “We’re a new business, and it’s going to be a pinch. But we don’t want to raise prices just to cover the minimum wage increase, because we don’t want people to feel like they’re overpaying here.”

Mr. Sherman said he might be forced to consider cutting the size of his part-time staff at the restaurant, but he would do so only as a last resort. He said he believes that small businesses across the state have been put in a similar bind.

“When the government raises the minimum wage, they think that they’re raising everyone’s pay. But what they don’t take into account is what raising it will do to small businesses,” said Mr. Sherman, who also is the general manager for Guilfoyle Ambulance Service. “They only have so much money for payroll, and you’re forcing them to potentially cut their employees.”

Mrs. Sherman added, “It’s going to make it hard because we’re going to have to produce more here to cover the cost.”

All employees at Jreck Subs restaurants in Watertown, Carthage and Lowville — including those who make $8.75 or more — received pay increases as of New Year’s Day, said Sally M. Rice, a franchisee who co-owns four stores in those areas with Peter J. Whitmore and another on her own.

“Our lowest base people are at $8.35, but everyone will get a 40-cent bump across the board,” Mrs. Rice said, adding that 47 employees in the five stores will be affected. “We want to make sure people are still paid based on their performance, so they’re all getting the same raise. If we have someone who has been here for three years, we want to make sure they’re paid more than someone who has just started.”

Mrs. Rice said the price of subs probably will be increased by about 20 cents within the next 60 days to make up for the minimum-wage increase. Though she said she isn’t opposed to such increases, she said she believes it should be up to business owners to decide when to make pay adjustments.

“It’s been exorbitant, with last year being 75 cents and then this year another 75,” she said. “I’m not opposed to people getting raises, but I’d like the government to get out of it.”

Benjamin J. Gilchrist, assistant manager of CiCi’s Pizza in the Stateway Plaza off Arsenal Street, said Wednesday that all of the restaurant’s 20 employees will have their pay bumped up to $8.75 an hour.

“When the minimum wage was $7.25, we could afford to give people raises more often, but we can’t do that now. Everyone is on the same playing field, even though some people have been here longer than others,” Mr. Gilchrist said, adding that menu prices have gone up to compensate for the increases. “We already had to raise prices last year, and we raised them again about two weeks ago because we knew we were going to get hit by the minimum-wage increase … 75 cents is a pretty big jump, and we’ve basically had a $1.50 raise now in one year. That’s a big jump.”

When Mr. Gilchrist was hired at CiCi’s in February 2013, the adult buffet price was $5.49, he said. Two weeks ago, it was raised from $5.69 to $5.89.

“We’re hoping not to raise it again, but we might have to,” he said. “But we’d like to keep it under $6.”

He said that although CiCi’s doesn’t plan to downsize its staff, it probably will seek to employ fewer workers during daily shifts to cut costs.

“We’re now going to be looking at every single thing about how we operate, like whether we can handle going without someone during a shift,” he said. “We might change how many workers are here during a given shift. Instead of four to five, we might have three to four. We’re going to have to cut labor hours.”

Damin J. Sawyer, an employee at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in the Stateway Plaza, said Wednesday that his pay will rise from $8.50 to $8.75 an hour. He has worked at the store for about nine months but will earn the same amount as those who are newly hired.

“I got a 50-cent raise about a month and a half ago after starting out at $8,” said Mr. Sawyer, 23, adding that it now feels like that raise has been taken away because of the minimum-wage increase. Mr. Sawyer said he has mixed feelings about the increase.

“It seems like it’s going to help, but it won’t if stores raise prices to compensate for the extra labor cost,” he said. “I have a wait-and-see attitude about it.”

Alicia M. DeMarco, a cashier at LeRay Street Dairy Market, said Wednesday that her pay is going to increase from $8.50 to at least $9 an hour. The 26-year-old mother of two children, who lives in the village of Dexter, said that while the raise “will help a little bit,” she and her boyfriend still will be living from week to week to cover their expenses.

“I bring in about $300 a week and my boyfriend brings home $350, and we’re still struggling,” she said, adding that much of their take-home pay is spent on groceries. “We pay our bills every week and wait for the next paycheck.”



By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

Building a north country brand

Born in an old bus, Jreck Subs a local favorite today

This 1986 concept drawing, from the Jreck Subs archives, depicts a store with a glass atrium. Jreck CEO Christopher Swartz said the concept never took off because of the extreme temperatures in the north country affected the clarity of the glass. Photo courtesy Jreck Subs.

The start of what is today an iconic brand that is synonymous with the north country had somewhat humble beginnings.

In the late 1950s, three friends, Ellis Martin, Keith Waltz and Jerry Haley, opened a sub shop outside of a Pennsylvania college. In an old Laundromat, looking to make a few extra dollars for school, the students opened a sandwich shop that operated from 4 to 11 p.m. [Read more…]