Small Business Survivors: Nearly century old Li-Lac Chocolates won’t melt under pressure


For Li-Lac Chocolates, a New York City chocolate shop of 97 years, business has been less than sweet. Revenue is down 75 percent — an increase, however, from its worst month in April, when it was down 93 percent.

But Anthony Cirone, the owner of Li-Lac for the past nine years, refuses to melt under the financial heat. Instead, he’s finding new ways to bring in enough cash before the busier fall season kicks in.

Four of Li-Lac’s six stores are currently open — one in Sunset Park’s Industry City, another in Grand Central Station, and two Greenwich Village. The stores offer a variety of hand-crafted chocolates, some molded into objects such as footballs, the Empire State Building and even a hospital building for frontline medical professionals who battled COVID-19 at its height.

But business is still at a trickle, as local traffic is no more than a nibble compared to Li-Lac’s old “normal,” Cirone said.

“Our business is dependent on tourists and businesspeople and none of them now exist,” Cirone said. “We sell a lot of gifts, and none of it is happening. There are no dinner parties, conferences — the things that normally drives business. Until we return to some sense normalcy, it’s hard to get back up to levels when the majority is gone.”

In the meantime, the chocolatier has gone into “survival mode,” reducing his staff, minimizing expenses, using the internet to drive sales, and delivering through third-party apps like Doordash.

Karine Khoder of Li-Lac Chocolates shows off some of her wares.Photo by Todd Maisel

Cirone said some governmental funds like the Payroll Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan have helped keep them afloat, but added that he’s dealing with six different landlords, some more amenable to compromise than others.

“I’m thankful some landlords have been really good. Some have been tougher, some offered abatement or reduced rent for a period of time, some are holding ground,” he said. “I don’t know how that’s going to work out. I hope to find something that works.”

While the growth in online sales has been a bright spot, Cirone said it’s “not enough to offset the loss in volume from stores” — but it does help a bit. “We are focusing on trying to get chocolates to those who can’t make it to stores,” he said.

Until things pick up around the holidays, Cirone expects to remain idle until the end of August, normally a slower time than the rest of the year.

“The fall season is big for sales,” Cirone said, stressing that New York City needs to fully reopen for small businesses like him to fully bounce back. “We will then be heading into holidays — and we cannot be without customers during Christmas or Thanksgiving. We need New York City to be open.”

This story is part of Schneps Media’s “Small Business Survivors” series, an ongoing look at how New York City small businesses are working to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re a small business owner surviving the pandemic, send us your story by emailing [email protected].

This story first appeared on AMNY.com.