It’s an issue gaining momentum throughout New York City. On the Lower East Side, one of the city’s last authentic neighborhoods, the question is particularly resonant.
All kinds of businesses, from historic “mom and pops” to cutting-edge startups, are under siege. Spiraling commercial rents, burdensome city regulations and a vanishing customer base have all imperiled local operators.
From the looming closure of the historic Streit’s Matzo Factory and the small affordable retailers that once lined Clinton Street to the demise of local favorites such as the Pink Pony, Motor City, Guss’ Pickles and Jeffrey’s Meat Market, the casualties continue to mount.
One of New York City’s greatest strengths is its uncanny ability to change with the times. But what happens if the latest wave of change wipes out the new and old businesses that give the Lower East Side its distinctive flavor, leaving generic national retailers in their place?
We have devoted the past six years to covering New York’s Lower East Side because we love our community. Through our extensive coverage of large-scale development projects, community-driven efforts to revitalize local parks and New York’s affordable housing crisis, we have given voice to your concerns.
We believe there’s never been a more crucial time for a robust reporting initiative focused on small business in our community.
Local companies and non-profit organizations – our advertisers – help fund The Lo-Down.
But to assure the publication’s long-term survival, we also need the support of our community.
In-depth reporting requires leg-work. Face-to-face interviews, investigative research, coverage of public meetings and computer-assisted reporting are all time consuming. But they’re also crucial to quality community journalism.
We are committed to providing all of our stories free of charge. Your contribution will make sure our coverage remains free and that it can be strengthened now and in the future.
During the next year, we will probe the issue from every angle, asking the critical questions, searching for innovative approaches and holding our local leaders accountable.
The initial phase, extending through December of this year, will include:
Eight comprehensive stories during the summer and fall – four focused on challenges faced by independent operators – four focused on potential solutions.
A Shop Local campaign built around the businesses you love. Readers will submit their nominations for a series of profiles that will appear on The Lo-Down’s website.
A special edition of The Lo-Down’s print magazine in December 2015 - a guide to the Lower East Side’s most-loved businesses. The winners will be honored at a special event in December.
A series of interviews with decision-makers, including local elected officials, about their small business survival priorities.
A community panel and meet-up event sponsored by The Lo-Down on small business survival solutions.
Throughout this initiative, we will need your ideas, feedback, neighborhood knowledge and your financial support.
The Lo-Down’s special magazine issue devoted to local establishments we couldn’t live without is hot off the presses!
In the first two stories for this small business survival project, we found potential solutions to be elusive. You’re probably not shocked by that. There are no easy answers to keeping mom-and-pop businesses in their retail spaces as commercial rents skyrocket. But here’s something we can do to help locally owned businesses: support them by buying their products and encouraging our friends to do the same. You might be surprised how many business owners tell us about the dearth of local shoppers in their stores. There are lots of reasons for this, of course. Online shopping is often more convenient and cheaper. Local residents may very well not be finding the things they need from the neighborhood’s independent businesses. But it could also be that a lot of people who live in the area aren’t aware of some of the unique retail and restaurants available within walking distance of their homes.
For this guide, we drew on our own research from the past several years and also asked for our readers opinions through an online poll and Facebook. Additionally, we got some great “Locals Picks” from established small business owners and residents in the neighborhood. We wanted to know the local spots people would hate to live without—the places that help make the Lower East Side unlike any neighborhood in the world. Some readers expressed an opinion that we hear often, the sentiment that so much has already been lost, making the community almost unrecognizable. While it’s true that a huge number of beloved businesses have faded away, we were encouraged in preparing this guide by the number of great, distinctive mom-and-pops that still remain.
As comprehensive as this guide is, we see it as a foundation for future reporting on The Lo-Down. In the months ahead, you’ll be seeing in-depth profiles of many of the businesses listed here, and we’ll be adding new businesses all the time.
Here’s the link to our “Essential L.E.S.”: http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2015/12/essential-les-here-are-the-local-spots-we-would-hate-to-live-without.html
Wishing you a wonderful New Year and thanks for your support!
This is David Owens, owner of David Owens Vintage, who opened his shop at 154 Orchard St. fourteen years ago. Earlier this year, his landlord delivered an unwelcome surprise: a bill for more than $40,000 to cover a portion of the past decade’s property taxes.
Saddled with a new financial burden on top of rising monthly rent payments, the determined clothing retailer did not fold. Instead he found a cheaper, smaller space a few blocks away on Rivington Street. While continuing to make payments to his previous landlord, Owens made the move a few weeks ago and is now starting over.
As his wife told us, “We will start, once again, the process of carving out a retail operation among the ruins of local culture… I see us independents as a dying part of retail culture.”
Last month, in Part 1 of our special series on Small-Business Survival, we heard from business owners as well as landlords about the vexing issue of rent escalation. This month, in Part 2, we take a closer look at some possible solutions, including property tax relief, special zoning districts and proposals giving commercial tenants negotiation rights during lease renewals.
These are remedies that have all been proposed in the halls of government—in some cases year after year—without much forward progress. But they present, at least, a starting point for addressing the problem of small- business extinction.
And thanks again for your support!
We’re off and running on our Small Business Survival project!
We spent much of the summer pounding the pavement, interviewing all sorts of stakeholders on the Lower East Side about the current challenges neighborhood businesses are facing.
What emerged is the undeniable problem of rapidly escalating property taxes.
Part 1 of our in-depth series offers viewpoints from business owners, property owners and a potential solution proposed by the L.E.S. Business Improvement District.
We focused on Orchard Street “by the numbers,” surveying the total number of storefronts (217), vacant spaces (30) and the types of businesses that currently exist in the historic discount shopping district.
There are about a dozen remaining stores identified with Orchard Street’s Jewish past, including Ben Freedman, which opened in 1927.
As the current owner, Avi Saks, put it, “The city has no interest in preserving businesses like my business…At a point, tenants can’t stay in business. Maybe the future is bright, but the present is devastating.”
Read our full story here and thanks again for your support!
Thanks to you, our Small Business Survival campaign was a big success. In the past 30 days, 161 individuals and businesses came forward with $27,765 for our yearlong reporting initiative.
We’re now making final plans for executing this solutions-oriented journalism project. In the next couple of weeks, you’ll see increased coverage of small business and then in September The Lo-Down will launch an eight-part in-depth series.
In the meantime, we want to celebrate with everyone who backed our project! This will be a great way to kick-off this coverage. It’s also an opportunity to meet up over drinks and snacks to hear your thoughts, discuss ideas and any other input you’d like to offer.
We need your feedback about the challenges and potential solutions for saving the Lower East Side’s independent operators.
We hope you can join us at Lucky Jack’s (129 Orchard St., between Delancey and Rivington), downstairs, on Monday, June 29 from 6pm - 8pm.
We’re so excited to share the great news that our Small Business Survival Campaign has been fully funded with still three days to go.
We met our goal this morning when the Lower East Side Business Improvement District signed on as a Community Partner, joining Russ & Daughters, Zarin Fabrics and the ZipCard.
Since our founding six years ago, The Lo-Down has been dedicated to covering stories objectively from all points of view, so in this project, we couldn’t be happier that support has come from a wide cross-section of our community. Individuals, small businesses and groups have all backed this project.
We’re delighted to have all segments of the community at the table as we begin this important dialogue.
But the campaign isn’t over just yet.
While we’ve met our initial funding objective, additional support will not only facilitate more in-depth coverage but it will send a strong message that saving small business is a top priority on the Lower East Side. Keep spreading the word - no contribution is too small!
As an extra incentive to keep the momentum going, the owners of Donnybrook Bar on Clinton Street have generously offered to throw a kick-off party (including a two-hour open bar) for everyone who supports the campaign.
It will be a great way to thank our backers for their support and also a chance for all of us to gather together and share ideas and concerns as the project gets underway.
Thanks again for all your support. We’re so proud to be a part of this community.
Thanks to you, our amazing backers, we’re almost at 70% of our goal! We can’t express how much this support has meant to us. We’ve been having non-stop conversations with people who care about this subject and it’s clear our community is very concerned about saving our small, local businesses.
We’ve added more great rewards for our backers this week. We’re excited to have The Jewish Conservancy offering private tours of the Jewish Lower East Side, gourmet chef Melissa O’Donnell is offering gift certificates for dinner or brunch at her delicious neighborhood restaurant, Thelma on Clinton and Cheeky Sandwiches, where the LES goes to indulge in great New orleans-style po’ boys.
We’re also delighted to have our friends at the illustrious Russ & Daughters Appetizing Store and Cafe joining our campaign as Community Partners. As an institution that has weathered the ups-and-downs on the Lower East Side through four generations, they’re also very passionate about the topic of small business survival.
Please keep spreading the word and encouraging people to contribute to this important initiative. Let’s reach our $24,000 goal together so we can get this coverage started!
We are happy to report that we are halfway to our goal! We’ve been getting some great suggestions about specific types of coverage to focus on for this project from our readers and our backers. If you have ideas, please send them to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a link to a great piece about our project written by Josh Stearns at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. We are proud to be a part of their Journalism Sustainability Project! https://medium.com/the-local-news-lab/a-new-crowdfunding-campaign-connects-community-small-businesses-and-solutions-journalism-e735037e2e7b.
Two great local business community partners have come on board to support this project: ZipCard, a local discount card for residents to use at establishments within the 10002 ZIP code and ZARIN FABRICS, an esteemed family run business that has been in the neighborhood for almost 80 years.
Thanks so much for your support - if each of our superstar early backers can encourage a few more people to contribute, this project will become a reality!
Just a note to thank our backers who have gotten us off to a great start with this campaign. It means a lot to us to have you on board from the beginning. We are so excited to see that we are 40% of the way there as we near the end of day three! Such great support is coming in from all different areas in the neighborhood, we can tell this is a topic that strikes a chord with people. Let’s keep the momentum going!
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