Bed-Stuy BID: A Gateway to the World

0
262
A “Long” History of Community Development: Joe Long points to the glass mural over Applebee’s that reflects the leadership who opened the door for today’s Gateway Business Improvement District, one of 70 such districts in New York City. On the mural are, from left, early community empowerment pioneers: the late Judge Thomas Russell Jones, John Doar, Robert Kennedy, Elsie Richardson and Senator Jacob Javits. Mr. Long, who owned “Birdel’s” for many years in the area, was a catalyst for change and worked with these early heroes and heroines of 1960’s Bed-Stuy community development movement.

 

If the Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District were a corporation, it would be one of the greatest examples of diversity and multiculturalism. Walking along the Fulton Avenue strip, passing rows of assorted businesses, from Classon Avenue east to Troy Avenue, an observant visitor can witness different cultural rituals, see varieties of dress – in all lengths and designs, and be greeted by workers, managers, owners in many languages: French, Hebrew, Russian, Pakistani, Italian, Spanish of all dialects, and more.

While the diversity along this Gateway can be broken into property owners of middle-eastern heritage; staff and workers primarily of African Diasporan descent; renting business owners of a mélange of cultures, including European and African American; and corporate retailers, it can be argued that this Central Brooklyn BID is one of the most multi-ethnic of all BIDS in New York City – where there are some 1,000 of these merchant associations, nationally, including some 70 in New York City, alone.

“There are more than 300 businesses managed, operated or owned by people of different nationalities from all over the world. And that’s an aspect that makes us unique. Also, our ultimate goal is to create a Business District that enjoys a balance between small business entrepreneurship and corporate entities. says Joyce P. Turner, chair, Bed-Stuy Gateway.

The “us” includes a collective of pharmacies, grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, florists, financial institutions, athletic gyms, bakeries, shoe shops, cafes, travel agencies, check cashers, newsstands, supermarkets, hair salons, law and real estate offices and more. And Ms. Turner admits that it would not be fair to say that this is an idyllic situation. There are challenges and growing pains since 2009 when the Gateway joined the world of the BID, which was first kicked off in Toronto in 1970. “But with the BID status,” she says, “there’s an attempt to connect our worlds so that we work together to bring traffic to the area.” Ms. Turner runs her family business founded by her father, the late William Turner, at Fulton near Throop, some 50 years ago. It is a realty, tax preparation, and travel enterprise, and very successful, mainly because the family owns the 1514 property where the multiplex of services is housed.

“Not all of the business owners own their properties,” says Idris Braithwaite, managing partner of Abu’s Bakery and son of the owner and founder. Idris II is among three of six siblings, who are partnering with their parents in the family’s landmark business near Bedford Avenue, known for its great bean pies, sweet potato pies, and other desserts.

Brathwaite, also a founding member of Gateway, believes that the BID is part of the gentrification process in the business arena, where space is prepared and prepped by small business owners, unwittingly, for actual occupation by new business owners from other areas. “The ma and pa operations will be challenged, as property values go up.”

It’s a double-edged sword, agrees Ms. Turner. As the BID creates an environment which is friendly to small businesses along the District strip, it also attracts outside businesses, squeezing out the small businesses that have weathered the storm. The concern by Mr. Brathwaite is that as ever-increasing rents make it hard for strugglers who have always lived here to survive storms and sustain enterprises.

Ms. Turner, who assumed her non-paying office last summer is working on a plan that pushes the envelope gently for the BID, and may have an impact on BIDs across the country.

“My vision is that the small businessperson who has pioneered on this strip is not left out and the marketplace will not suffer a radical change in its intended inclusive village structure.”

Essentially, Ms. Turner’s working plan is to engage all Gateway BID participants as Bedford Stuyvesant investors. “It works best when we are working for the empowerment of the community.”

To start, Ms. Turner’s plan is to ask the shopkeepers and property owners to take the first step: investing in each other. It’s a plan that is in draft stage but includes such fiscal-cliff avoidance tactics as rewarding property owners, businesses and retailers for great ideas and practices that has a positive impact on community sustainability.

Ms. Turner also is expanding the notion of community service from the CEO to the manager on the frontlines greeting the customer. She believes, “I am a proud Gateway member resonates to the customer and the energy level is increased.”

Ms. Turner has already activated the Gateway’s strategic marketing mission, one of three promises to member business owners. The other two are the provision of street cleaning maintenance and tactical security measures. All are designed to create the “Friendly environment” Mr. Braithwaite spoke of.

“As we celebrate the holidays and welcome a new year, I am proud that the BID members have unanimously agreed to use the community’s existing marketing tools and resources {including Our Time Press, the community’s largest minority-owned print communication vehicle} to spread the word of the Gateway.

At a recent meeting, Mr. Joe Long, Bed-Stuy’s dean of entrepreneurism and a BID Board member emeritus, spoke of the pioneers of the past, Franklin Thomas, Elsie Richardson and Robert Kennedy, whose joint community-development legacy is realized everyday on Fulton Street in the existence of Restoration Corporation. “These are new times, but the efforts of these old pioneers should never be forgotten: we will bring attention to all businesses that are working to empower the Bedford-Stuyvesant community.”

Ultimately, the goal of BID is to enhance community awareness and create high traffic to the strip. Says Mr. Long, “We are hopeful that rents can be stabilized and the small business owner will survive, but the BID membership working with community leaders must be united in making sure that happens.”

“This holiday, I am proud to announce that Gateway Board is purposed to act on a new vision and ideas for enhancing our role in the community and contributing to its sustainability,” says Ms. Turner. “The Gateway membership is open for business and I encourage everyone to choose Gateway for your gifts, products and services, this season and beyond.”
(by Bernice Elizabeth Green)