The Small-Business-Saving Squad of the East Village
It seems like everyone supports small business — it’s as American as Mom and apple pie. But all you have to do is observe the changing streetscape, or read a website like Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, to know that small businesses are vulnerable things, and can have very short lives in New York City.
A new group plans to add some muscle to local business: the East Village Independent Merchants Association, or EVIMA. Presently in formation, it will soon become a merchant-run membership organization aimed at sharing resources and information to help independent stores prosper. That’s according to the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC), which initiated the organizing effort and is shepherding the group into becoming reality.
“Economic and demographic transformations in the neighborhood have challenged the stability of retail and the diversity of services for many years,” says EVCC managing director Sara Romanoski. “The days immediately following Hurricane Sandy made it clear that we lacked a local communication system for business owners in the East Village. We believe it is crucial to support their individual efforts and to provide an opportunity for merchants to help each other.”
Stanton Blackmer is one of many merchants who both live and work in the neighborhood — on the same block of East 9th Street, in fact. An owner of Fabulous Fanny’s (home to an incredible selection of vintage eyewear), Blackmer attended EVIMA’s first public meeting, held at Ciao for Now on February 24, along with his co-owner, Ken Finneran. The shop has been in its double space at 335 E. 9th Street for 13 years, but Blackmer says the block seems to be in an unprecedented moment of transition.
“It’s reason to be concerned. Part of it’s the economy — Sandy hit us really hard, and we just didn’t seem to bounce back after that,” he said. Even though his block is known for its density of popular shops, Jill Anderson and Tutti Trendy recently closed, and Archangel Antiques is on the way out. Plus, Westminster Management — known to many as the business owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — is buying many buildings, including the one Fanny’s is in. And Westminster’s management style doesn’t exactly inspire confidence: Blackmer said he’s had rent checks not cashed, been billed for the wrong rent amount, and had trouble locating the new superintendent of the building.
“Our lease is coming up in two years, and I’m afraid we’re going to be out of business. We’re kind of stressed out over it,” he said. So why did he and Finneran attend the EVIMA meeting two weeks ago? “I don’t know. We just thought we would go and see … as a group, what we can do together.
“We tried some years ago to organize the block,” Blackmer remembered with a laugh. “All good intentions. People had been here a long time and didn’t want any part of it. I admire anyone who comes in and wants to do anything.”
Here’s what EVIMA wants to do:
- Establish three committees of merchants — in marketing, communication, and resource development — and begin programming and communications
- Conduct a survey and in-person interviews to understand the needs of the district more extensively
- Connect merchants to learn from each other take advantage of collaboration where possible
- Build community among the merchants and help deepen the connections to residents — their customers — as well
- Alleviate some of the common burdens that small business owners have by centralizing research into particular business areas, connecting merchants to alternative vendors as necessary, and empowering the group as a collective to advocate for their rights.
In forming EVIMA, the East Village Community Coalition researched models from the Austin Independent Business Alliance to a newly forming merchants association in the Bronx. It’s focused on representing the needs of independently owned businesses in the East Village that keep daytime hours, as they are most likely to serve they local population, as well as making streets more vibrant and attractive.
Want to learn more? Contact Amy Parker, EVCC’s business outreach coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.