East New York is slated for rezoning, a project that seems likely to attract a younger crowd with expensive tastes to the neighborhood. With that future looming, bodegas along Fulton Street—along with businesses on Staten Island's Bay Street and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx—have been targeted for a makeover. The Wall Street Journal reports that LISC NYC, in partnership with the NYC Department of Small Business Services and Citi Community Development, has launched a program called the Community Corridor Challenge to help storeowners give their businesses the bougie sheen that snares millennial attention.
The Journal report notes that, at one East New York bodega, escalating demand for "fresh juices, organic vegetables and fancier beers" from young people has inspired a new direction. Along with a change in stock, the storefront will see its "bulletproof-glass windows cluttered with stickers and signs" replaced, its floors and lights refurbished, and its name tweaked to better reflect its new look. Business owners on this stretch of Fulton Street can apply for grants to help them undertake similar cosmetic adjustments (although they have to kick in some money, too). The project partners hope these changes will help attract more shoppers as local demographics shift. As the Journal notes, the program is also based on the hope that these shiny new bodegas will "encourage other merchants to tidy up," increasing "perceptions of street safety."
As Curbed points out, though, all three areas involved with the Corridor Challenge have been rezoned—or have been the subject of (contentious) rezoning proposals. Rezoning entails building more residential buildings: 6,500 new apartments in East New York, half of which will be affordable housing units. The trouble, however, comes in the city's conception of what affordable means to the neighborhood. Curbed reports that 34 percent of East New Yorkers make $23,000 or less per year, while only 4 percent of units are intended for that income bracket. Back in its proposal stages, rezoning stirred up controversy precisely because previous experience—ahem, Williamsburg—indicates that rezoning triggers rapid gentrification and prices out longtime neighborhood residents.
Still, rezoning is the reality: "Change is coming," as Gregory Schiefelbein, New York tri-state director of Citi Community, put it to the Journal. "We want to make sure that neighborhood institutions, people who have been invested in the community for a long time, are able to pivot." LISC NYC Deputy Director Eva Neubauer Alligood added that small businesses in the area "need to benefit from change, not be kind of quashed over."
It may not be the case that the city is undertaking the Corridor Challenge because of rezoning specifically, although it seems convenient that all three areas involved share that one characteristic in common. Still, we have contacted LISC to ask how changing store offerings and environments to cater to a more affluent crowd will affect prices for longtime customers, contributing to the pushing people out problem. We will update with their comment if we hear back.