The Coronavirus pandemic crippled small businesses across the city, forcing many establishments to permanently close their doors, but help is available according to President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Randy Peers, who gave a presentation on the Revitalization of Small Business at the February 16th meeting of Community Board 18 (CB18).
Peers focused on how the Brooklyn Chamber has assisted small businesses with recovery and talked about the support that is available to help small businesses.
“None of us thought this [the pandemic] would last two years, but the businesses that made it through 2020 were fortunate and lucky in part because they might have received some sort of federal support,” Peers said.
He said that 2021 really wasn’t that bad in the scheme of things. “We fully reopened. Summertime was pretty good; a lot of people started to patronize restaurants. Vaccinations were on the uptick and people felt confident again.”
“Then the fall hit, we had Omicron and we fell off the cliff again. The recovery has been up and down, like a roller coaster,” Peers said. He explained that it’s hard for small businesses to plan for uncertainty and many just did the best that they could.
However, Peers said that the Chamber had an idea early on that no matter what resources were going to be put on the table for small businesses, they knew those small businesses would need help in accessing those resources.
The Chamber launched the Small Business Resource Network, a citywide program funded by the Peterson Foundation that puts business recovery specialists in every neighborhood across the city.
There are eight recovery specialists in Brooklyn. Two of them work with restaurants and the rest are geographically focused on different neighborhoods.
These recovery specialists go to the commercial corridors, knock on doors and help small businesses to access the support and services that are available for them.
There is federal and state support available, Peers explained, but there is also a host of pro bono third party, corporately-donated resources to help businesses get back on their feet.
For instance, the Brooklyn Chamber has helped a number of businesses that did not have a website or ecommerce site by providing them with free help. Peers said, “It was necessary because a lot of their work was becoming virtual.”
The Chamber also provided legal services for businesses that were struggling with past-due rent by renegotiating leases, as well as marketing assistance and support, and access to finance (grants, loans, etc.) .
In addition, Peers said that the Chamber offers merchant organizing and support and has provided that support on the Rockaway Parkway and Flatlands Avenue commercial corridors, made possible by grants.
“We learned during the pandemic if a commercial corridor had a BID (Business Improvement District) or a merchant association, it was more likely to weather the storm than those that did not,” Peers explained. “We can look at vacancy rates along the corridors, retail lists and determine what’s missing to draw consumers down to a particular corridor.”
Peers also said that “social justice lending,” a signature program of the Chamber, provides financing of up to $15,000, with no interest, for minority-owned businesses.
Still, one of the most important things residents can do to support small businesses is to “shop local,” according to Peers, who raved about TriniJam, “an amazing restaurant that opened during the pandemic.”
The next meeting of CB18 will take place on Wednesday, March 16th, in person and virtually.