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Lara Olubunmi, owner of Wazobia Restaurant in the Stapleton area of Staten Island, knows her customers. After five years operating an African restaurant bordering Tappen Park, Ms. Olubunmi has tailored her menu to the neighborhood and has a devoted following for her Nigerian spaghetti and meatballs, a specialty that melds her African heritage and experience growing up in Italy. She even has regulars who are homeless, for whom she provides free food and sage advice when things get really tough. In short, Ms. Olubunmi runs a restaurant that is much more than a business; it’s a local institution and hub for neighborly connections.
Ms. Olubunmi, owner of Wazobia Restaurant, spoke about the vital social and economic roles that locally-owned businesses play at an event celebrating storefront improvements that will be coming to Bay Street in the Stapleton area of Staten Island through the Commercial Corridor Challenge (Corridor Challenge). The program is a partnership between LISC NYC, the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS), and Citi Community Development. The Corridor Challenge supplements SBS’s Neighborhood 360⁰ Program which strengthens and revitalizes the streets, small businesses, and community-based organizations that anchor New York City neighborhoods, and is part of the City’s larger effort to revitalize Fulton Street in East New York, Brooklyn, Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, and Bay Street on the north shore of Staten Island.
The launch of the Corridor Challenge in Stapleton drew a crowd of community members, local merchants, and program partners. “Commercial corridors are more than a place to shop,” said Sam Marks, Executive Director of LISC NYC to the assembled crowd. “They are part of the cultural, economic and social fabric of communities. If we want strong neighborhoods, we need strong commercial corridors.”
SBS Commissioner Gregg Bishop echoed these comments. “Strong neighborhoods full of thriving small businesses are the backbone of our great city,” he said. “With the Neighborhood 360⁰ program, we invested in the future of key commercial corridors and now, the Commercial Corridor Challenge will go a long way to continue this momentum.”
“With the right tools, small businesses can drive economic resilience for their neighborhoods,” said Eileen Auld, New York Tri-State Director for Citi Community Development. “By bringing together public, private, and nonprofit organizations, the Commercial Corridor challenge will help equip main street businesses to survive, thrive and support the economic growth of their neighborhoods.
New York City Councilwoman Debi Rose, Staten Island Deputy Borough President Ed Burke, and President & CEO of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce Linda Baran set the local context of this work by describing the need to connect small businesses on Bay Street to opportunities created by new investment and development coming to the North Shore of Staten Island
The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, the Corridor Challenge’s local partner on Bay Street, announced that 17 small businesses in Stapleton, Staten Island, primarily restaurants and food-related providers, will receive grant funding and expert technical assistance to refresh their storefronts with lighting, new signage and other improvements. Their goal is to create a vibrant, eclectic neighborhood hub for dining and shopping that will draw patrons from near and far. Both NY1 and the Staten Island Advance covered the event. LISC NYC was thrilled to celebrate the unveiling of this work with partners NYC SBS, Citi Community Development and the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce.
LISC NYC recently published an in-depth article on the Commercial Corridor Challenge and its efforts to support small, locally-owned businesses to survive and thrive in rapidly changing neighborhoods. The piece describes the methodology of the program and how the impact of its interventions will be measured. LISC NYC’s program builds on the work of other LISC offices that have piloted this approach. Research and field observations at these sites have consistently demonstrated the importance of addressing customer-focused fundamentals along commercial corridors, including cleanliness and safety, to help challenging retail environments to revitalize.