By The Biz Team (Jules)
I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that should serve as a cautionary tale for all “up and coming” neighborhoods across the country. When a neighborhood is “up and coming,” it usually means that small business owners and artists have moved to it for its affordable rents. Sounds pretty harmless, right? Well, the en masse migration of artists and small businesses to cheaper towns, a.k.a. "gentrification," puts a town at risk of "hypergentrification." Hypergentrification is when gentrification is extreme or excessive. There is much understandable controversy over the word “gentrify,” as its implication is that “the gentry” are descending upon a neighborhood, therefore making it better somehow, purely based on their arrival. “The gentry” are defined as “people of good social position," which is highly subjective. Since my neighborhood has become hypergentrified, the amount of vomit and garbage I now have to step over on Saturday mornings, suggests "the gentry" might not be the best word to describe hypergentrifiers.
Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; where retail spaces rent for an average of $347 per square foot.
In the past, gentrification might have been initially appreciated by long term residents, who had been waiting for businesses to notice their neighborhoods. They can bring sustainable jobs and a sense of community (as long as the gentrifiers get involved in the community). But people are getting wise to how gentrification can lead to hypergentrification. And once hypergentrification begins, community dissolves. Small businesses are forced to close their doors one by one, so that big banks and chain retail stores and restaurants can fill their now expensive spaces. Tenants are forced from their buildings, so luxury condos can be built in their places. Either that, or the buildings just sit empty. Hypergentrification is when unregulated commercial rents are raised to levels that only big business can afford, and residential landlords inflate rents to levels that are impossible for the 78% of us living paycheck to paycheck to keep up with.
But as if hypergentrification wasn’t enough, the pandemic has caused small business closures in Williamsburg to become even more daunting. Almost every day, I am saddened to find that yet another mom and pop has shut its doors for good, some of them seeming to even close overnight. No “Going Out of Business” sales, no “Everything Must Go!” or “Our Landlords Are Terrible People, So We Have To Close!” signs. No warning, so no chance for loyal customers to try and fight to keep their local businesses open, and their local communities thriving.
We at Mind Your Biz think joining forces is a key component for small businesses to succeed sustainably. New York was “trendy.” Meaning that the people who had moved here in droves, driving rents up to astronomical rates; are now leaving since living in New York is no longer trending. The city was full of transients, who had no loyalty to small businesses, because they had no loyalty to their community. But many creative minded entrepreneurs still remain…and are probably still reeling from the shock of what’s been happening with their small business.
So why not band together? One business owner, An Vu, has an affordable clothing boutique in Williamsburg. She is being forced to close her doors this Saturday because of what she describes as her “Greedy asshole landlords.” She said that a friend of hers has a local hair salon, where she could set up shop if she wanted. Perfect example. They could share rent on the space, collaborate on customer relations, and build a larger community, because together they can reach a broader client base. You go in for a cut and color, and come out with new duds, too. At a time when people are looking for social interaction, but on a small scale, small businesses have a prime opportunity to broaden their customer base, while maximizing efficiency and also keeping everyone safe.
We’re seeing more and more coffee shops in tattoo parlors, bars using their wall spaces as art galleries, and bakers selling treats in clothing boutiques. Or pop ups, where entrepreneurs on a budget cross promote, by having events with multiple vendors. There are a myriad of ways to get creative when collaborating in person. But we don't know how much of our social contact will be limited in the coming months. Well, entrepreneurs can also collaborate online. American Primitive is a great example of this. American Primitive is a collective based out of Los Angeles; made up of a select group of like-minded artists, fashion designers, photographers, and musicians. Their social media and website are one-stop shops for a variety of unique merch and music. Social media and websites are a great way for people to join forces, and broaden their customer and loyalty base on a massive scale. It’s also pandemic proof.
Cotter Barber in Greenpoint, Brooklyn hosts a coffee counter in the front of their shop.
This is an opportunity to get creative. To talk to the people around you who are still...around. Want to teach a gardening class? Collaborate with a yoga instructor who's teaching outdoor yoga. Host a hands-on seminar with students after the class. Are you a whiz at baking, and you know someone who makes great cocktails? Start a cocktail and dessert delivery service. Or sell boxed lunches at your local laundromat.
Because New York is suffering so much due to, not only the pandemic, but years of hypergentrification; this is a chance for its cautionary tale status to be transformed into a positive lesson on how to bounce back after gentrification has gone too far. The creative entrepreneurs who don't have the luxury of leaving New York (nor do they necessarily want to), can show the rest of the country how to keep the onslaught of people coming their way, from turning their towns into an unaffordable nightmare. By banding together and forming strong, supportive, loyal business and community relationships, towns of all sizes can increase their chance to thrive sustainably.