By {grow} Community Member Pavel Konoplenko 

The story begins like any sweet story should — with delicious ice cream.

I first visited Ray’s Candy Store, an old-fashioned, hole-in-the-wall family business, when I was strolling around New York’s East Village.  The walls of the store were covered with vintage photos of desserts — like Instagram except in real life! There were also articles and reviews covering the history of this beloved 40-year business.

One article in particular caught my eye. The headline read, “Social media saves beloved East Village candy store.” How could social media, this recent tool of our information age, possibly be used to save the decades-old candy shop? After reading the article on the wall and having a brief chat with the man working the counter, I discovered a wonderful story…. the story of Matt Rosen, the social media Good Samaritan who crafted a social media strategy just because he wanted to save this little store.

ray alvarez

Ray Alvarez

The store’s owner 79-year-old Ray Alvarez, immigrated to America in 1964 and took odd jobs until he worked his way up to become the owner of the store. ”It’s my heaven,” Alvarez said in an interview in NYU’s Daily Student Newspaper. “I enjoy every minute of it. I came here from Turkey with no papers in 1964. I worked as a dishwasher, then waiter, then saved enough to buy the store.”

But after 36 years in the same location, increasing rent and taxes threatened to shut the little store down. Word began to spread that Ray was shuttering his business and loyal customers came out in full support of their beloved neighborhood store. Ray said, “They would buy anything and hand me a $20,” Ray said, “and then insist that I keep the change! They kept giving me money.”

But even this benevolence was not enough to keep Ray in business for long.

matt rosen

Matt Rosen

Matt Rosen, a long-time Ray’s customer and Internet-startup consultant, stepped in to help.  It was clear that Ray needed something with massive reach at a low cost, and the social web seemed to be the perfect solution.  So Matt volunteered to manage the pages on Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, and Foursquare that became the hub of an initiative to connect with the thousands of Ray’s customers throughout New York City and beyond.

Through PayPal donations, sales from Ray’s merchandise, and even a benefit concert, Ray was able to raise enough money to keep the store open. In fact, since his foray into social media, Ray has had his best year of business.

Matt was humble when describing his success. “It starts with the business,” he said, “and Ray himself. Without Ray, nothing we did on Facebook or Twitter would have mattered. The call-to-action was really doing something so we wouldn’t lose Ray.”

The goal of the social media effort, Matt said, wasn’t to get a million followers — that wouldn’t pay the bills. It was to keep Ray’s name out there on a regular basis and get somebody who buys one milkshake a month from Ray to buy two or three. Think of the impact on Ray’s bottom line if 200 customers do that.

“This is a simple, relatively painless way to keep Ray’s name out there.” Rosen said. “If my responding to a tweet or thanking someone who checked in on Foursquare brings them back in to the store, then that’s more business for Ray. We know this stuff is working. I can see the metrics.”

Speaking to a local newspaper, Mr. Rosen said he volunteers roughly 15 minutes a day to managing the assorted online accounts for two star clients. At the end of a typical day he searches for mentions on Twitter of Ray’s and responds to them.

In the first month of setting up Foursqure, 130 people had checked in to Ray’s Candy Store through Foursquare. “That’s tremendous,” said Mr. Rosen. “That’s two days-worth of revenue from Foursquare, and it took me just 15 minutes to set up.”

Social media buzz was a huge economic benefit for Ray, but it also brought his dilemma to the attention of a law student who helped him register his papers with Social Security and Medicare. Ray also recently got naturalized recently and is now an American citizen!

And what does Ray, who first saw his first computer a year ago, think about Matt’s efforts?

“Lots of young people are coming now with their iPhones,” he said. “They say, ‘If I do this, I get $1 off, right?’ I say, ‘OK.’” Ray continued, “[Matt] does advertising for me — it’s really high-tech. I still don’t have a television — I don’t know what Twitter is. This is a free country and you can do what you want,” Alvarez said. “How long am I going to keep working here? Until the end!”

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Oh yes, follow Ray on Twitter won’t you?

Update: Matt Rosen was at it again. This article describes how he helped New York’s Mosaic Man.

Pavel Konoplenko, one of the most active commenters on {grow}, is passionate about social media and technology and their effect on today’s world. Connect with him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/pavelnovel

Photo of Ray Alvarez Courtesy of The Villager

 

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