On Tuesday night, October 24th, Greenpoint relaunched its Chamber of Commerce as an affiliate of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, filling the void the original chamber left when it disbanded more than 30 years ago.
“I have long realized that our neighborhood needs an association to provide a voice for the business community,” said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol. “I remember how active the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce used to be and thought that reactivating it was the next logical step.”
The new Greenpoint Chamber will operate as the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s first-ever community satellite member, said Lentol, which means each business that joins the organization will, by extension, receive many of the same services the Brooklyn Chamber offers to its more than 1,000 members. These include access to Brooklyn HealthWorks, a low-cost health insurance program, human resources assistance for employee retention and training, real estate and development for business expansion, as well as small business counseling, financing and micro loans.
More importantly, Lentol said, though the Brooklyn Chamber has long been instrumental in the success of many businesses, the Greenpoint Chamber would help address unique business interests in the neighborhood.
After conducting a significant amount of outreach to business owners on heavy commercial stretches like Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue, Lentol and Jeff Mann, Greenpoint Gazette managing editor and executive director of the new Greenpoint Chamber, are preparing to address the local concerns of the merchants, such as the need for additional garbage cans and the cleanup of unkempt streets.
“The top of my wish list is just the appearance of Manhattan Avenue,” said Matthew Mullen, an insurance agent at an Allstate branch on the busy byway. “If we can get that worked on, that would be very good. I think it’s a lot for someone to come to a business if they’re not stepping over garbage or dirty sidewalks. The appearance of the neighborhood makes a big difference in the way people perceive its value.”
In addition, a scarcity of available parking, road congestion and a lack of G and L train service irk residents and business owners, like Citistorage owner Norm Brodsky, who want to see Greenpoint thrive economically.
“We have problems that, as a group, we can bring to our elected officials, and it will have more power,” he said. “There’s no better place for prospects for business than other people who are in business.”
Attention to these types of hyper-local issues are what Mann said separates the Greenpoint Chamber from its Brooklyn partner.
“We’re offering hyperlocal advocacy versus the borough wide advocacy of the Brooklyn Chamber,” said Mann, who spearheaded the idea with Lentol almost six months ago. “We’re in tune with every issue in this community. We’re acting as the Brooklyn Chamber’s liaisons to the Greenpoint community and they’re acting as our liaisons to the borough and beyond.”
The Greenpoint Chamber hosted its inaugural mixer Tuesday night, where Lentol, Mann and representatives from the Brooklyn Chamber discussed membership and future goals. With a showing of more than 50 business owners, Mann said he has high hopes. He predicts that by next summer the Greenpoint Chamber will hopefully welcome 200 new members.
“The enthusiasm of the business owners, so far, has been unbelievable,” said Mann.
Mullen, who was involved with the Avenue L Merchants Association in Canarsie, said he saw firsthand how powerful organizations can be in driving business to a neighborhood.
“Once that organization ceased to exist, I watched storefront after storefront close on Avenue L,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I feel very strongly we need something like the Chamber here.”
Inter-entrepreneurial support takes precedence for many business owners in Greenpoint, a neighborhood where, according to Mullen almost everyone is a familiar face. The real question is how they can help one another.
The community becomes part of your whole business. I think it’s important for business people to take the attitude that they’re part of the community. You don’t just open up your store, go to work and go home,” said Brodsky.
Considering that the Greenpoint Chamber is still in its early stages, some business owners have their reservations. Mary Brockman, who owns Kill Devil Hill on Franklin Street and who was a founding member of the Greenpoint Business Alliance, said she’s hesitant to invest in new business ventures that she’s not sure will be sustainable.
“I need to know more, what the structure is, what the rules are,” she said. “But whether I sign up or not, I know something like this needs to be there. The more the rest of the neighborhood thrives, the more I will and the more everybody will.”
Membership for the Greenpoint Chamber costs $300 a year, which Mann said will be crucial to hiring staff, recruiting new members, as well as planning fundraisers and networking events.
In its first two days, according to Mann, around ten members have signed on with many more businesses expressing their interest.
“We’ll be here to help them out and work with them and help them get off their feet,” said Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Carlo Scissura. “Our staff will be available to Jeff and other people on the board to give them guidance and make sure they’re up and running.”
The original Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce, established in 1930, was disbanded around the late 1970s due to what Lentol said was a lack of leadership. John Raber, who headed the chamber from the 1960s to its final days, also served as the chairman and president of the Greenpoint Savings Bank at the time. “By the early 1980s,” Lentol said, “as the business began to expand to other boroughs and as Raber approached his retirement, he moved out of the neighborhood.”
“When he moved out, the Chamber went with him,” said Lentol, adding that no one ever stepped up to take his place in the 33 years that followed – until he and Mann came together.
Both believe they have developed a sustainable business model this time around, and with the thus-far positive response from the Greenpoint business community, they have high hopes the chamber will last.
“We’re all in this together,” Lentol said. “As somebody said once, ‘As businesses goes, so does the nation.’ Well, as business goes, so goes Greenpoint.”
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