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Thayer businesses struggle amid inflation

Owners forced to raise prices, find new produce suppliers to stay open

<p>Some businesses have been forced to change their business hours and find alternative vendors to adjust to increasing inflation.</p>

Some businesses have been forced to change their business hours and find alternative vendors to adjust to increasing inflation.

Thayer Street has seen many closures in the past year, with several storefronts remaining vacant. Storefront signs read that Pokeworks will move into the former Santander Bank lot, but the next occupants of the former Blue State Coffee and Ayame Hibachi Express lots remain unknown.

Now, several business owners on Thayer face a new set of challenges as continued inflation has forced changes in prices and practices.

Most of the goods necessary for food service have increased in price over the last few months, noted Tanzeel Rehman, owner of Tribos Peri Peri, a Thayer restaurant that serves halal Portuguese and South African cuisine. “Lettuce has been $100 a case, so each head of lettuce is more than $6, sometimes even $8, which is ridiculous,” he said.

Leslie Albuquerque, owner of La Creperie on Thayer, has also noticed a consistent uptick in prices for produce necessary for her business, like fresh fruit. “The basic ingredients that we use for crepes really have gone up a lot,” she said. “It's been hard to find specific things. … Fresh strawberries are not always available, or if they are, they're just too expensive to buy.”

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As a result, Albuquerque has had to slightly increase her store’s prices. “I was reluctant to do it, but … it was necessary,” she said. “It just wasn’t making sense anymore to continue with the same price point when everything was a lot higher to purchase.”

Mike Boutros, owner of Chinatown, East Side Pockets, Mike’s Calzones and Mighty Mike’s Pizza, has also needed to increase prices on some food items, causing some customers to attempt to bargain for lower prices at the register. Others have stopped coming altogether, he wrote in a message to The Herald.

In order to “protect the customer experience and keep consistent with our pricing,” Rehman has made changes to business operations rather than raising food prices. Because orders were coming in less frequently later at night, Tribos Peri Peri now closes at 10 p.m. instead of the store’s usual midnight.

Additionally, Rehman has stopped ordering some produce from Sysco, his usual vendor, and started shopping at ordinary supermarkets for ingredients. “They're still very expensive,” he said, “but supermarkets were actually cheaper than getting it from the vendors directly.”

Both Albuquerque and Rehman worry about continued inflation and its effects on their businesses and customer bases. “Although my (sales) volume is going up, the costs are going up, so actually, the (profit) margin is going down,” Albuquerque said.

Staffing has also been a challenge for Tribos Peri Peri, Rehman said, and the store’s hours and frequent staff turnover have made it difficult to find and keep “the right staff.”

La Creperie has had a consistent staff throughout the last six months, which Albuquerque feels lucky to have maintained. Boutros’ employees have also been more consistent since the height of the pandemic, he said.

Mighty Mike’s Pizza, which opened last spring, is “still building up (its) community,” Boutros wrote. “I try to be in there as much as I can to speak to customers and meet some of the people trying our new food.”

In addition to the opening of the pizza shop, Boutros has begun a mixed-use development project on Thayer. Though he has faced a few obstacles in the process — parking is limited and construction approval has taken time — Boutros expects to be finished by January of next year.

Beyond challenges with inflation and staffing, smaller businesses like La Creperie are also threatened by the larger, franchised stores moving onto Thayer.

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“As the industry gets bigger, the creperie gets smaller,” Albuquerque said. “Years ago, there used to be a lot of small shops, but now it's like everything else is getting new (franchises). They’re going into renovated spaces, and my space is still the same.”

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Liliana Greyf

Liliana Greyf is a senior staff writer covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, and Brown's relationship with Providence. She is a sophomore studying Literary Arts and a proponent of most pickled vegetables.



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