They’re trying to bring back Brooklyn businesses.
On Tuesday, May 5, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce launched the Bring Back Brooklyn Fund, an initiative to rescue neighborhood small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and revamp the borough’s economy.
According to the Brooklyn Chamber, the efforts to raise money for the fund have begun in earnest, although the loans themselves won’t begin until the economy starts to reopen and more money becomes available through fundraising.
Sunset Park Business Improvement District’s (BID) executive director David Estrada talked to this paper about the hardships local businesses are facing and how Bring Back Brooklyn can help.
“It’s well documented that the vast majority of small businesses in Brooklyn that have applied for city or federal relief don’t get it,” he said. “There are so many different reasons, but the ultimate result is that the aid we hear about is not reaching the small businesses in Sunset Park so we have to try to take things into our own hands and do something locally. That’s the origin story of business improvement districts, when the government failed communities back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and here we are again with the Brooklyn Chamber and the BID and local development corporations and merchant associations desperately trying to take care of businesses that fall through the cracks.”
According to the Brooklyn Chamber, the Bring Back Brooklyn Fund will provide no-interest loans up to $30,000 for everyday Brooklyn neighborhood businesses impacted by COVID-19 – retail stores, restaurants, bars, coffeeshops, hair salons, daycare centers, gyms – that are operating amid the shutdown or plan to reopen when the shutdown is lifted.
“I like [Bring Back Brooklyn] because we can take action,” Estrada said. “It’s local. 65 percent of the loans will be dedicated to minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs). I also like it because it is micro loans for micro businesses. You can get as little as a few hundred bucks and up to $30,000. You don’t have to have technical certification. It doesn’t have the roadblocks, hurdles and bureaucracy that comes with getting federal funds. It’s a zero interest loan. And it may be just the small amount that keeps a few businesses open.”
The creation of the fund is in response to a recent Chamber survey released in April that found 84 percent of Brooklyn businesses that applied for the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) had not received funds, and 90 percent of MWBEs that applied for PPP had not received funds.
Borough President Eric Adams is chairing the Bring Back Brooklyn Fund.
“This innovative program will deliver much-needed relief where it’s needed most, to businesses that would otherwise slip through the cracks,” said Adams. “At a time when federal programs have proven to be insufficient to the scale of this crisis, Brooklyn has to step up and offer assistance to maintain the vibrancy of our small business community.”
“In 2008 Main Street bailed out Wall Street. Today, who is going to bail out Main Street?” added Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers. “Small businesses, especially minority- and women-owned businesses that don’t have existing ties to lenders, and or were shut out of federal stimulus programs, need resources immediately to survive.”
The Bring Back Brooklyn Fund has more than $125,000 on hand and will be administered through the Chamber’s Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) program, and Brooklyn Alliance Capital (BAC), which offers micro loans to Brooklyn small businesses that typically do not qualify for commercial bank loans.
“It actually will help some few businesses survive and it’s better than none,” Estrada said. “It’s also an example of how to use a designated financial institution that is more sensitive to local businesses than the federal or city government.”
Estrada also discussed the disadvantages of small businesses.
“A lot of these stories don’t have deep relationships with the Chase banks of the world and don’t know how to maneuver in that area,” he said. “The banks themselves were playing favorites, offering a much easier path to funding for their larger and corporate customers. Once again, very good intentions and a lot of money, but not targeted in a way that is practically accessible by small businesses in Brooklyn.”
Although he is encouraged by the Bring Back Brooklyn Fund, Estrada discussed some concerns for smaller businesses moving forward.
“The need is far and away greater than the amount of benefit we will be able to deliver,” he said. “This campaign is not just direct action to help specific businesses, but in my estimation, it’s also a cry for help that the city, state and federal government do things more like this that get down to the ground where people live.”
He added, “It’s a very sensitive and difficult time to ask anyone, even corporations, for funding support because everyone is hurting financially. Nonetheless I have faith, as with the 44th Street fire fund, that there is a great capacity for generosity in our community and businesses that care about it. My happiness from this is zero interest loans, money raised in Sunset stays in Sunset and it’s administered locally by a trusted community financial institution.”
As for Sunset Park businesses, the executive director says they are struggling.
“I visit the avenue daily at least a couple of times a day and there are terribly tragic stories and loss of life among proprietors,” Estrada stated. “Among the businesses, the deep frustrations even of savvy business operators and knowing how to fill out web forms and collect documentation and deal with things is just running into a brick wall trying to get funding. That’s just tragic to me.”
He added, “Let’s not kid ourselves that small businesses were having a good time before COVID. Our small businesses were already suffering from online sales, extreme tax, labor and other regulations. They were already deeply threatened and this is just exposing the inherent weakness of how we’ve treated our small business and immigrant-run business in New York City. We took them for granted.”
However, he remains inspired by Sunset Park workers..
“I look and am inspired by the people opening their doors every day serving the community,” Estrada said. “The food services, bodegas, pharmacies, bike shops, laundromats, it’s a tough neighborhood. These are the front line workers who are keeping us alive. They are showing up in Sunset Park and it’s profound, but the loss will be significant in terms of small businesses.”
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