Guest Op-Ed: New report shows local small business economy is improving

If small businesses are the backbone of New York City, then they are the lifeblood of southwest Brooklyn. Our small businesses keep our avenues vibrant, they reflect the diversity of our neighborhoods, and they contribute to our strong sense of community, which is why it’s so exciting when new businesses open, and so heartbreaking when businesses, especially the ones we’ve grown up with, close.

Last December, I wrote about the many vacant storefronts in our community. At the time, I had counted over 60 “For Rent” signs across Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst.

But, less than a year later, I have good news to share. According to a recently released report, the vacancy rates for small businesses in our community have gone down. And when it comes to keeping storefronts occupied, Bay Ridge in particular is actually doing substantially better than the citywide average.

Independently collected data from the folks at Radio Free Bay Ridge show that our local vacancy rate is approximately 7.45 percent — well below the citywide average of 12 percent. In fact, our numbers have improved by two percentage points since last year!

To anyone who lives here, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. From our active local merchant groups and Business Improvement Districts, to our multiple Summer Strolls, events and festivals, we’ve always had an extraordinary culture of supporting small businesses in our community.

The vast majority of our local businesses are owned and operated by residents who reinvest their profits back into our neighborhoods. And the diverse communities that live here mean our businesses truly have something for everyone. We are the quintessential small town in a big city thanks in part to our small business-friendly communities, and that shows compared to other parts of the city.

I want to be clear: This doesn’t mean small businesses aren’t struggling. We all know the feeling of walking down avenues, seeing shuttered stores that we’ve grown up with, and getting the sense that we’ve seen all too much of that recently.

It’s no secret that ever-climbing rents are still strangling our small businesses and our residents, meaning there’s less spending money to go around. Retail markets are constantly changing, making it more likely for someone to purchase something online than in person at a local brick and mortar business. And big chain stores are outbidding small businesses in the ongoing fight for commercial space.

There’s still a lot of work to do to protect our small businesses, and keep our community a place where new businesses can open and stay open. I believe more can and should be done to encourage landlords to rent to small businesses and dissuade them from keeping storefronts endlessly vacant. But this new data shows that our small business economy is resilient, and that it is weathering these inevitable changes, to the market and to the neighborhood, successfully.

I know it can be hard to watch beloved businesses close, especially ones you grew up with. Unfortunately, along with the passage of time comes the inevitable loss of some places we love; there will always be a natural ebb and flow beyond our control.

But we’ve also had successful businesses open in the last several years which are establishing their own legacies in the neighborhood. Let’s welcome them with open arms and keep visiting the places that have stuck around.

After all, I can do everything in my power to protect small businesses as an elected official, but our local small businesses will only survive if we all support them.

City Councilmember Justin Brannan represents the 43rd Council District in southwest Brooklyn.

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