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How NYC’s Business Improvement Districts Are Helping Small Businesses Thrive

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: May 7, 2024
Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin D. Kim (left on stage) sat down with Vision Times on May 6, 2024 to share the initiatives that BIDs offer to residents and small business owners throughout New York City. The event concluded with a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the city's first Business Improvement District: the Union Square Partnership. (Image: Vision Times Staff)

NEW YORK, New York  — In a major boost to local economies, Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin D. Kim sat down with Vision Times on May 6 to talk about the exciting new initiatives that will bolster the city’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and community-based organizations across the region. 

With 75 BIDs scattered across the city’s five boroughs, Kim emphasized their importance in providing vital services to small businesses during an annual event at the Union Square Partnership, the city’s first BID partnership. “The way they help these businesses is by giving them extra sanitation cleaning services,” notes Kim, “they also provide more public safety because they have workers who walk around the streets to prevent crime.” 

But these services, which make BIDs invaluable to the city’s small businesses, don’t just end there. Kim’s interview coincided with NYC BID Day — a celebration of the city’s network of BIDs, which has grown over 40 years to cover nearly 300 miles of commercial corridors. 

Small Business Services Commissioner Kevin D. Kim sat down with Vision Times on May 6, 2024 to share the initiatives that BIDs offer to residents and small business owners throughout New York City. (Image: Vision Times Staff)

The day was marked by events across the five boroughs, including a community cleanup in Brooklyn, a commercial corridor tour in Queens, and a 20th anniversary celebration in Staten Island. The day concluded with a 40th anniversary commemoration of the Union Square Partnership.

Activating public spaces

BIDs are also instrumental in revitalizing public spaces to enhance community engagement, promote local businesses, and create vibrant, attractive environments where people can gather, shop, and enjoy the day, says Kim. 

Kim also highlighted how they activate areas such as open plazas through music performances and by featuring local small businesses. These initiatives, conducted in collaboration with the NYC government, make public spaces attractive and lively, encouraging people to shop and dine locally. “These are the things that BIDs do to help the NYC economy thrive,” he adds. 

A view of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Conservatory during the Lightscape Press Preview at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens on November 16, 2022 in New York City. (Image: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

The city’s commitment continues with the Fiscal Year 2025 Executive Budget, which allocates $5.3 million in grants to drive tourism and attract consumers to commercial corridors, storefront businesses, and neighborhood institutions citywide. The funds will be directed towards three key programs: merchant organizing, BID formation, and small BID grant programs.

Since 2022, Mayor Eric Adams’ administration has invested over $27 million in these entities, emphasizing their importance in supporting small businesses and enhancing neighborhoods.

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Supporting Asian-American businesses

With Asian-Americans owning 23% of all small businesses in the city, the Small Business Services team makes a concerted effort to support this community. The department’s staff includes speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Bengali, and other common Asian languages, notes Kim. 

Through partnerships with community organizations, they explain the various services available to businesses so that non-native speakers can also understand. “We try to ask partners in community organizations to invite us [to local events] and then we go and explain all the services that we have,” says Kim. 

The Sugar Factory in New York City is a vibrant and whimsical eatery located in the bustling heart of Times Square. Known for its origins in Las Vegas, this American Brasserie offers a unique dining experience that combines a playful confectionery theme with a diverse menu that includes food and drinks. (Image: Manos Angelakis/LuxuryWeb Magazine)

To further support BIDs, the city is also establishing a new “Trusted Partner” program aimed at streamlining processes and alleviating burdensome requirements, with a particular focus on rising insurance premiums. The program will receive $500,000, and Small Business Services (SBS) will provide technical assistance for BIDs facing challenges in securing insurance.

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Comprehensive support for business owners

Kim outlined the extensive support available to entrepreneurs through the city’s seven Business Solution Centers, which assist with everything from legal advice to obtaining leases and funding. In addition, established businesses can benefit from services like pre-inspections, conducted by former NYC inspectors, to ensure compliance and avoid costly violations.

“We also help businesses that want to start from the very beginning,” says Kim. “We have 7 business solution centers so anyone who wants to start a business can walk in and we can help them with the legal questions, get a lease signed, or connect them with a lawyer if needed.” 

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at the campaign launch event for ‘We Love NYC’ in Times Square on March 20, 2023 in New York City. (Image: Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images)

He adds, “If they need funding via a loan or grant we can also connect them with a commercial lease assistance program or nonprofit lenders.”

For business owners, particularly those operating restaurants or retail stores, frequent inspections by NYC agencies can be daunting, notes Kim. That’s why BIDs’ free pre-inspections can help businesses achieve top ratings, such as an “A” grade for restaurants. 

By proactively identifying potential issues, BIDs inspectors can help ensure that, when official health inspectors from the city conduct their reviews, businesses are well-prepared and can avoid lower ratings like a “B” or “C.” This is just one of the many ways BIDs assist businesses in maintaining high standards for themselves and their customers, adds Kim. 

Upcoming NYC Small Business Expo

Looking ahead, Kim highlighted an upcoming event for business owners: the NYC Small Business Expo that’s slated for May 29 at Downtown Manhattan’s Pier 36. 

The expo, spanning 70,000 square feet, will host over 200,000 businesses and offer “one-on-one services” to business owners. “We’re also going to have deputy mayors and 40 of our sister NYC agencies there, including the Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Education, etc,” says Kim, adding, “So if you have a business that is trying to get government contracts, you can meet the procurement officers there to find out what you’ll need.”

“It’s a great opportunity to network and to learn how to win big NYC government contracts,” he adds.

For more information on New York’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), including upcoming events, please visit the official website here.

With reporting by Tiny Tang.