Today marked the unveiling of hyper-targeted storefront and safety improvements for local businesses along Fulton Street in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn as part of LISC New York’s Commercial Corridor Challenge program. Cypress Hills, like many communities in NYC, is facing displacement pressures and both residents and businesses are feeling the heat. The #CorridorChallenge began as a concept over two years ago and morphed into a program led by the New York office of the Local Initiative Support Corporation in partnership with Citi Community Development and the NYC Department of Small Business Services. The idea was deceptively simple – utilize qualitative and quantitative data to inform a set of high impact, low cost interventions that give small businesses a fighting chance to success as the neighborhood changes around them. With limited access to capital, even small improvements can be cost prohibitive. And in a City like New York with only a handful of licensed signmakers who work on small projects, making small improvements to remain competitive is both cost and time prohibitive. The program worked in three neighborhoods (Cypress Hills, Southern Blvd. in the Bronx and Bay Street in Staten Island) and each neighborhood got a different customized set of improvements. In Cypress Hills, the bulk of the $60k went to support matching grants for safety and storefront improvements aimed at drawing more customers into local stores. On a long corridor like Fulton Street, the work of deciding where to focus these investments came from data collected through the East New York Commercial District Needs Assessment (CDNA). The CDNA is assessment tool that was executed by SBS in partnership with local community organizations based on a methodology developed by LOA and LISC utilizing over two decades of collective field research. The most significant challenge identified by the community was the issue of crime and public safety that resulted in shorter business hours and fewer shoppers. Addressing this challenge through thoughtful interventions became our team’s core mission.
Early on, the team recognized the need to educate merchants on how to address safety challenges, and we leaned heavily on LISC’s Safety program, started in 1994 to support crime reduction in low-income communities, to help us do just that. For those unfamiliar with the concept of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), it is a philosophy of design that prevents crime by decreasing a criminal’s ability to commit crimes. In the case of Cypress Hills, we recognized the importance of utilizing CPTED principals as a component of the storefront improvements and engaged CPTED experts to provide educational training to merchants that would help them recognize the value of design elements like lighting and transparent windows. These became hallmarks of the program.
Today’s press event was our day to relish the outcomes and hear directly from merchants. The staff at Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation eagerly took a gaggle of folks on a tour to see the outcomes. My favorite story comes from Juan Diaz, the owner of J&E Mini Market in East NY, who showed off his new awning and big windows to the group. He noted that he had already seen increased sales on the first day of the improvements. The transparent windows that featured so prominently in the design were the result of Juan’s participation in the CPTED training many months before. In the coming weeks we will be conducting impact measurements, through pedestrian count sensors (provided by MotionLoft) and surveys of customers (provided by Audience Research Associates).
As this data begins to trickle in, we are excited to show how small, highly visible interventions with businesses can make a huge difference in helping undercapitalized business owners make improvements and manage the impossible bureaucracy that is New York City. We are thrilled the Juan Diaz is in a much stronger position to better meet the needs of both existing and news customers as the neighborhood changes around him.
Larisa Ortiz Associates consulted on program design and provided management and technical assistance to LISC and program partners during implementation.