Stores BID to improve shopping

New effort seeks safer, cleaner Southern Boulevard

By Monica A. Suma

Photo by Monica Suma
Stores on Southern Boulevard are making a big effort to attract shoppers by starting a Business Improvement District

Downtown has SoHo. Now Hunts Point has SoBo.

Merchants have rebranded the area’s main shopping street as part of a wide-ranging effort to make shopping on Southern Boulevard and Westchester Avenue more inviting.
In his last act of 2007, on New Year’s Eve Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a law creating the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District, based on a plan put forward by business and property owners with the backing of Community Board 2.

As a result, say the district’s founders, shoppers will find cleaner streets and more attractive storefronts. Graffiti will be erased and security will be beefed-up. Festive lights will brighten the area at holiday-time. And merchants will join in area-wide promotions.The owners of the real estate along Southern Boulevard and Westchester Avenue have agreed to make a $200,000 investment in the newly-formed Business Improvement District.

They will pay an additional $800 to $3000 a year per building to a fund dedicated to the additional services. The city will collect the money along with property taxes and return it to the Business Improvement District.

Community leaders hope that in turn, a cleaner, safer, more attractive shopping area will draw a substantial number of new customers.

The business improvement district includes Southern Boulevard from 163rd Street to 167th Street and Westchester Ave from Fox Street to Hoe Avenue. It includes 171 businesses. Seventy percent are stores, 20 percent are restaurants and fast food outlets, and five percent are banks, according to the Southern Boulevard BID website.

The plan has been in the works for four years, since Board 2 approached Josephine Infante, executive director of the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation, and asked her to come up with a proposal.

Her organization conducted surveys as part of a month-long “Taste for the BID” promotion in September 2005. Security, sanitation and marketing were the main areas needing improvement, the respondents said.

“Businesses and people wanted this change,” Infante said. Creating the district “was the right thing do to.”The district will be managed by a steering committee headed by Bill Feldman, co-ower of the Feldco Building, at 163rd Street and Southern Boulevard. He will be seconded by vice president Alan Jamal, treasurer Steve Tsavaris and secretary Richard Izquierdo.

According to Feldman, shoppers will see changes beginning in September 2008. “We are looking forward to improving the quality of shopping and living conditions of the area and of making Southern Boulevard the best shopping area in the Bronx,” the district’s new president said.An unscientific survey of store managers found opinions divided on what the first steps should be. Some think that safety is the most important issue that has to be resolved, while others see parking space and more lighting to be more urgent matters.

“Safety is most important,” said Sandro Gonzalez, manager of Dr. Jay’s Ladies Clothing Store. He said the store had only been open for three weeks when a fight broke out on the sidewalk “and it took 15 minutes for the police to arrive.”

“Safety is the number one problem. It’s not safe. We’ve called the police so many times. People are always mugged in the street,” agreed Romney Zui, manager of Electronics Store.

Thievery makes restocking the shelves difficult, as well, Zui said. “Vendors refuse to come; they never make deliveries anymore. They prefer to send UPS. There is always a group of people watching to see if the delivery guy is by himself, or, if he is busy, to later go into the truck and steal merchandise,” he said.
Mike Khan, owner of G&G Jewelry Store, disagreed. “The police are very cooperative and efficient,” he said. “Parking is the main problem here, because of the bus stop in front of my store,” he said, by pointing to a bus that had just pulled in. “People that visit the store get a ticket right away and then never come back.”
But Khan did say that improved lighting was needed to make the area safer at night. “Lighting is very important for this area, because after seven p.m., everything closes down,” Khan pointed out. “There used to be a lot of lights two or three years ago, and now there is almost none, which is very bad for the holiday season,” he added.
Zui also emphasized the importance of holiday lighting. “Put it up a month and a half before the holiday season, not just for a few days,” he said.

The store owners and managers agreed that the business improvement district will be helpful. Gonzalez called its formation “especially good news because it will generate jobs.”

“It will make a big difference, for sure,” Khan agreed.

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