Strengthening NYC's Retail Corridors

Monday, January 30, 2012

Strengthening NYC's Retail Corridors

QEDC's mission is to create and retain jobs through programming that grows our neighborhoods, assists small businesses and promotes tourism and business development. As we deal in all aspects of business development we have a good understanding of the challenges facing small business owners and conditions affecting economic growth in our shopping districts. While it is impossible to touch on all these issues in this short posting, I would like to point out some of the main concerns that our clients face and present some recommendations for city officials and community planners. I will address items comprised within three key categories for local economic development:

  • Small Business Assistance
  • Retail Corridor Improvement
  • Leadership Development

Small Business Assistance

Small businesses are the backbone of a thriving local economy. We must provide the necessary report to help new and existing small businesses maximize their capacities to provide needed goods and services. Starting and operating a business in New York City can be a daunting task. Many aspiring entrepreneurs are not able to grasp the comprehensive process involved in establishing a new business. The creation of the online business resource center NYC Business Express provides an additional tool for entrepreneurs to access information although it cannot replace the need for meeting with a professional business advisor that can give immediate feedback and answer questions. The NYC Business Solution Centers and technical assistance providers such as QEDC which provides guidance and training in all stages of business development need to receive greater support.

Innovative entrepreneurs need access to the capital to start a new venture. We should continue to grow and support our network of business incubators that prepares small businesses to go out and occupy vacant storefronts. Many of the City's business incentive programs do not apply to the mom n pop type establishments that keep our neighborhood corridors thriving.

In my role at QEDC, I have constant dialogue with existing business owners in various commercial districts in Queens. A few common themes frequently arise in those discussions. Among these is what they view as excessive business taxes and fees, overregulation and red tape at city agencies, and unwarranted fines. Most recently, the merchant organization in Richmond Hill notified me that the Department of Sanitation removed several litter baskets along Liberty Avenue and have since been issuing summonses for sidewalk trash to multiple businesses. In another example, we have a client who bought a building in order to open a new catering hall. We connected the client to the City's NBAT (New Business Acceleration Team) program and while he was granted construction permits through NBAT, a technical issue occurring with the Department of Buildings have not allowed them to proceed with the project. The owner has made several attempts to resolve the issue with DOB, with little success in getting direct feedback regarding his case. In the meantime he continues to pay a mortgage on a property with no revenue coming in to offset his costs. These types of incidents lead to a disconnect between merchants and city government, causing many business owners to become discouraged and miss out on economic opportunities.

Retail Corridor Improvement

Thriving retail corridors have common characteristics. They are clean and pedestrians friendly; offer a heterogeneous mix of retail options; accessible by public transportation; and can attract shoppers beyond its local customers base. in order to strengthen NY C's retail corridors, planners and city  officials should focus on initiatives that aid in achieving these characteristics.

Capital funding should be invested to make physical improvements to our corridors to ensure that they are attractive, safe and conductive to doing business. improvements to our transportation infrastructure which allows for multimodal access to shoppers districts are of vital importance. We have a growing and aging population that needs to be taken into consideration in future designs of our landscape and transportation system.

many retail corridors have fallen prey to the economic downturn. As part of the overall goal to create new jobs, City government should work in collaboration with business organizations and real estate professionals to attract new business to our retail corridors. Our retail corridors needs to be marketable in order to attract new investments. Often, this task is left up to volunteer- based merchant organizations that lack the capacity and resources to effectively promote their business. The City should work to provide more support and technical assistance services to these organizations.

Leadership Development

In more cases, resources aimed at improving economic activity on our retail corridors are coordinated at the neighborhood level by a locally based business development organization including merchant associations, local development corporations, and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). City officials should continue to work with these organizations and provide the necessary support to help them with keeping their districts vibrant.

In order to be effective, these business organizations need strong leaders that know their communities well and understand the intricacies of local economic development. It is very important that these leaders have access to proper training and technical assistance to develop strong programs that improve their neighborhood corridors.

To this end, I would like to commend the Department of Small Business Services for supporting the Neighborhood Leadership Program with Coro. I had the wonderful opportunity of being a participant in the first cohort at this program this past year. This program is a 5 month, part -time training program that provide neighborhood leadership with the skill and experience needed to lead change and improve their communities. I have personally gained a better understanding of community planning, networking, public speaking, consensus building and have applied these types of programs and continue to work with community leaders in developing successful strategies to strengthen our neighborhood retail corridors. 

posted by Ricardi Calixte - Director of Neighborhood Development, 
Queens Economic Development Corporation