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LISC in the WSJ: Helping NYC Corner Stores Keep Up With Neighborhood Change

An article in The Wall Street Journal details a creative program to help neighborhood bodegas update their look and stock, and keep pace with demand as new, younger clientele moves in. Together with longtime partner Cypress Hills Local Development Corp, LISC is spearheading the "Commercial Corridor Challenge," supporting small businesses to prosper—not flounder—as demographics change.

The excerpt below is from:
New York Helps Give Some of Its Iconic Bodegas a Makeover
By Melanie Grayce West, The Wall Street Journal

Brooklyn bodega owner Manny Valdez knows there’s a change in the customers visiting his East New York store. The Spanish brands of food, flour and canned goods aren’t selling as well anymore, and some customers are asking for fresh juices, organic vegetables and fancier beers.

So to keep up with the shifting demographic and draw in more foot traffic from the nearby Cleveland Street subway stop, Mr. Valdez, 45 years old, is rolling out a new identity for his 17-year-old store.

Out will go the bulletproof-glass windows cluttered with stickers and signs. Half the dry goods shelving will go, too. In will come new lighting and floors, a vegetable stand, a fresh juice machine and a deli that can churn out bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches.

A new pilot program in the area, the Commercial Corridor Challenge, is helping stores like Mr. Valdez’s adjust to the evolving neighborhood by subsidizing new signs, windows and awnings. The program, funded by the city and corporate and private donors, aims to strengthen and study commercial areas in rapidly changing neighborhoods.

Mr. Valdez is using it as a chance to make changes to merchandise and other aspects of the store. His Cleveland Deli has a new name: Cleveland Deli and Organic, adding what he said is a nod to his new, younger, health-conscious customers.

“That’s what’s coming to the neighborhood,” Mr. Valdez said. “You have to get ready.”

Martin BK Barber Shop prior to the addition of a new awning.
Martin BK Barber Shop after the new awning was installed.
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The revitalization program, which is also being implemented in parts of Staten Island and the Bronx, is modeled on research of Philadelphia’s commercial corridors. The premise is that a few improved storefronts along a strip can encourage other merchants to tidy up, which will in turn increase perceptions of street safety and drive foot traffic.

Merchants apply for the storefront grants, which can cost tens of thousands per store. Only a handful of businesses are a part of the program so far while it is in its pilot stage.

In rapidly changing neighborhoods, commercial corridors have been struggling, said Eva Neubauer Alligood, deputy director of LISC NYC, the nonprofit leading the program. Merchants “need to benefit from change, not be kind of quashed over,” she said.

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