The sun is shining bright on the Sunset Park Business Improvement District (BID).
New Executive Director David Estrada seized the reins of the organization — which encompasses the area from 38th to 64th Streets on Fifth Avenue, and includes over 500 businesses — at the beginning of July, a few months after longtime Executive Director Renee Giordano retired from the post.
Nearly five months later, he has established a desire to continue the work of his predecessor while expanding it with his own vision.
“I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit,” he said. “I really like connecting local merchants to city services and helping people work with city agencies. Constituent services are really satisfying so you can see the results of what you’re doing.”
Estrada’s first big task was to organize the BID’s biggest event, the annual street festival in September.
“Reestablishing that rhythm of traditional events taking place, even if we’re doing some new and different things, is an important part of maintaining what Renee had built up here for over 20 years.That feels pretty good,” he said.
He also takes pleasure in helping local businesses.
“I’m starting to work with city agencies to do direct service to the merchants of Fifth Avenue. We had a walkthrough with the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Sanitation,” he explained. “There were no badges, no ticket books, just walking on the avenue with flyers and experts from those agencies, stepping into a store and saying, ‘Hey, no harm, no foul. We’re not going to write you tickets. But these wonderful spice items that you’ve bagged from bulk need to be labeled a little bit differently or you can get a serious ticket.’ Or, ‘You are selling used merchandise.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s jewelry or bikes or clothes or furniture, anyone selling anything used in the city has to go through a few special steps with the Department of Consumer Affairs. So being able to walk in and coach a business and give it a chance to comply with the rules that it might get caught on later is satisfying.”
He provided an example of helping businesses move along more seamlessly.
“There’s a lovely pre-k that’s going to open around 41st Street and they just couldn’t get the Fire Department to sign off on the last inspection. They are good at what they do, but they’re also running a pre-k and are busy. Just being able to know, ‘Oh don’t call that department, call this fire one;’ maybe they can help schedule. Having something as simple as that take place and open the door for a new business, serving children from Sunset Park, that’s really fun. There are lots of little example like that.”
The holiday season also marks a busy and exciting time for Estrada and company.
The holiday lights are already lit along the strip and the annual tree lighting outside Our Lady of Perpetual Help took place on Fri., Nov. 23 with performances, giveaways and a visit from Santa Claus.
In addition, the free Fifth Avenue Trolley will be running on Fri., Nov. 23, Sat., Nov. 24 and Sat. Dec. 15, Sun., Dec. 16 and Sat., Dec. 22.
Diversity of residents and businesses separates the Sunset BID from many others, said Estrada.
“Sunset Park itself is unique so I think the nature of the avenue, the immigrant community, the mix of people that you find here, and the fact there are lots of visitors in Sunset Park but the local community likes to live and work and shop here, make it different,” he said.
Even though the neighborhood is changing, there are still some fixtures on the avenue.
“When I look through the window, I see Flamingo Furniture. It’s been there for over 40 years,” Estrada said. “I didn’t realize that it goes up and up, on like four floors of a giant building, and the further you go up, the more furniture there is. Sometimes there are things that have been sitting here for years and years, and you go by and you think you know them. If you go just a bit deeper, you realize what is going on.”
He also gave a glimpse into newer businesses.
“L‘Wren at about 40th Street is a new pub that opening owned by a great guy,” Estrada said. “That’s a new business and new style of business. The place that used to be Parkette Brooklyn is going to reopen as a place called Judy’s that’s going to serve coffee, pastries and maybe beer and wine. They found a beautiful, historic wooden bar, beautiful old architectural wood to install.
“There are a lot of storefronts on Fifth Avenue that are changing over,” he went on. “Sometimes, it’s a generational change. Sometimes, someone just decides to take another direction in their business life. Some of the storefronts are for rent or under construction.
“One of the services the BID can offer is to try to cultivate good tenants in commercial space, and help the ones that want to change,” Estrada stressed. “If the neighborhood wants to keep its authenticity, character and richness, we have to be aware of the new businesses that will be coming in some of these commercial spaces. Managing those changes successfully is part of the work of the BID.”
Estrada said he wants to leave his own mark on the BID.
“We are applying for grants with the Department of Small Business Services,” he explained. “We are working with the New York City BID Association to see if they’re doing something creative which we can model in a way that is correct for Sunset Park, maybe using street banners, maybe advertising on bus stops.
“I want to make sure this BID keeps the tradition that the neighborhood is accustomed to seeing and doesn’t just walk away from hard work that has taken place for many years, but I’m looking for new and different opportunities,” Estrada stressed.