Chamber leaders working on starting BID in Maspeth
By Benjamin Fang
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul joined Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Thomas Grech, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, last month to tour Grand Avenue’s small businesses.
Beginning at Maspeth Federal Savings Bank, they stopped by Fame Diner, Da-Bar Shoes and finished at Rosa’s Pizza. Along the way, they discussed the challenges small business owners face and how the government can provide helpful services.
One way to help local small businesses may be in the works. Crowley recently secured a grant for the Queens Chamber of Commerce to work with the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce to explore the option of possibly bringing a BID to Grand Avenue.
Grech said he jumped at the chance to help start the business improvement district (BID) and revitalize the neighborhood. There are currently 73 BIDs throughout the city.
“We’d love to have this become the 74th,” Grech said.
David Daraio, COO of Maspeth Federal Savings and president of the Maspeth Chamber, said the BID would help keep the neighborhood “where it needs to be.”
“Grand Avenue is such a rich area with a lot of longtime businesses,” he said. “We want to make sure we can provide the holiday lights, sanitation services and things like that for the long term.”
The difference between a chamber and a BID, Daraio noted, is that a chamber is more of an advisory committee. It’s run by businesses and funded through donations, which he said they’ve struggled with recently.
A BID, on the other hand, is run by property owners on the commercial strip. Through their taxes, each business puts in money relative to its size to fund services such as sanitation and other programs.
When they form a BID, Daraio said the chamber, which has been around since 1953, will still function.
“The chamber will continue to operate as an advisory committee because we do know the neighborhood, the issues in the neighborhood and we’ve been there a long time,” he said.
Daraio added that a lot of small business owners on Grand Avenue have asked to form a BID, which he called the “right next move.” It gives business owners a constant stream of funding to provide the necessary services, he said.
Though Crowley, Daraio and Grech have had conversations about forming the BID before, Daraio said they just formed a steering committee two months ago.
“We’re hoping that in about a year and a half, we can get this up and running,” Daraio said. “We’re excited about it.”
Crowley also organized a roundtable with local business leaders to meet with Hochul.
Hochul told the story of helping her mother start a small business in her hometown of Buffalo. A lawyer by trade, Hochul returned from Washington, D.C. and helped set up her mother’s flower shop.
“I have such an affinity for small business owners because I was the one who had to go figure out the workman’s comp and insurance,” Hochul said. “I really learned firsthand the stress of being a small-town business owner, what happens when the neighbors around you are not doing well. There’s a psychological shift downward and you don’t have consumer confidence.”
In Buffalo at the time, the steel plant, for which her father and grandfather worked, closed down, dealing a “crushing blow” to the community. Thousands of people left, she said.
But Hochul also saw Buffalo’s “incredible comeback,” which she attributed in part to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s investments and pro-business policies. She senses a similar energy in Queens.
“There’s a sense this is a stable place amidst a lot of upheaval, gentrification and changes,” she said. “That’s built on the incredible strength and character of this community.
“You’re fighting to keep it the way it is,” she added. “You do not want to lose that sense of place you have here.”
“We certainly have the small-town feel here so close to the city,” Crowley added.