You’ve seen signs like these before—”The Times Square Alliance” or the “Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues BID”—hanging over major commercial areas. These are the most obvious signs of a local BID at work.
But have you ever wondered if these groups actually make a difference in a neighborhood?
While any neighborhood in New York City can apply for a BID, the first step in doing so is collecting interest. Below are two neighborhood collectives in Queens and Staten Island—one that is trying to form a BID and one that has been approved to launch its BID this year.
Will a BID blossom in Kew Gardens this Spring?
Grace Ankar, owner of The Potter’s Wheel, has driven most of the effort in creating the Kew Gardens Business Alliance. Whether a business has been open for one year or 60 years, they all feel the pressure of rising rent and competition. A BID might be what it takes to save Kew Gardens businesses from going under.
Over the past few years, Lefferts Boulevard has seen commercial rent go up and several businesses close down, blighting Kew Gardens with vacant storefronts for years to follow. In 2015, three new businesses have moved in and joined more than 40 other businesses in an effort to revitalize the local area.
The Kew Gardens Business Alliance was launched in December, but its founder has met difficulty in recruiting businesses between Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue since last summer. Grace Anker, 67, who owns The Potter’s Wheel, said the group would allow for better communication between local businesses and create a support system to share community-related issues.
The Alliance’s members will include banks, realtors, and attorneys to restaurants, hair salons, delis, and more, Anker says. The lack of parking spaces is one major issue for them, which could be used by customers to stop and shop in the area.
“We’re right in the middle of Queens and we need to improve the whole economic climate here,” Anker says. “There seems to be some confusion on why businesses change hands and close down, but we need to combine our efforts together to increase foot traffic to the area.”
The alliance would be the first step in creating a local business improvement district (BID). For more than 40 years, New York City businesses have banded together to formBIDs. BIDs are non-profit public/private partnerships in which property and business owners come together to make a collective financial contribution to the maintenance, development and promotion of their commercial district, according to the Mayor’s Office of Small Business Services. Veering away from issues of parking, Ankar says the business alliance will be “a cohesion of merchants who give back and beautify the area to make it more attractive and unified community.”
Neighborhood Business Spotlight
Austin Barbershop, Comic Den, and Mirage Optica are three businesses that managed to relocate across the street or around the corner for cheaper rent rates. Mitchell Slavuter, a broker at Prime Realty, said commercial space on Lefferts Boulevard can range from $2,200 to $2,400 a month, with corner stores valuing up to $3,000 to $4,000 a month.
“We can have our small businesses succeed as long as locals support them. We have no corporate chains, except for Dunkin Donuts and 7-Eleven,” Slavuter says. “It’s not as commercial as Forest Hills, you can get more space here for the same dollars. It’s a happy medium.”
Comic Den Co-owner Janet Vargas, who moved her 24-year-old business around the corner from her original shop, says although rent in the area is a bit expensive, she is glad to still have her loyal customers and welcomes the younger business owners moving into the area.
Vargas’ previous shop is now Boba Juice, started by co-owners who identified themselves as Jib Jones and Ali Kahn. The duo also own Misty Vape Saloon, previously Austin Barbershop’s location, on the same block. Kahn says they measure their success in number of customers whose lives they are helping extend by choosing to vape instead smoking cigarettes. Despite opposition from some community members several months into their business, Jones says they have a 10-year lease and will count on the community’s support to keep their business alive.
“It’s good that we talk with other businesses, we’re here to engage with the neighborhood and work hard. This is how anyone can make it in America,” Jones says.
State Island’s South Shore BID set to launch in 2016
Staten Island welcomed the South Shore BID this year, making it the 72nd and newest BID in New York City. Though a victory for businesses in the neighborhoods of Annadale, Great Kills and Eltingville, it has been a process nearly five years in the making.
The process began with the formation of merchant groups in Annadale, Eltingville, and Great Kills to bring the merchants together, says South Shore BID Executive Director Anthony Rapacciuolo. Former district Councilman Vincent Ignizio worked hand in hand with the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation to provide merchant groups with additional services for three years. Services included security in the towns, street sweeping services, marketing services, events to attract people to the towns, and holiday lighting.
Rapaccuiulo says there was a major drug bust in Great Kills in 2011 at a deli called Nel Boys, at which narcotics and guns were among the items found. At the time there were private hired security guards working each town—-which were provided through the merchant group and councilman Ignizio–and those security guards provided the tips and surveillance they had to local authorities which lead to the NYPD’s raid and the arrests. Since then there have been guards placed in each town for periods of 8-10 weeks each year, which also deterred crime.
“Now, that the BID is formed the plan is for private security to be place in each town 365 days a year,” Rapacciuolo says. “Right now these towns need it more than ever given the drug epidemic the island is facing.””