The event, which was open to the public, was sponsored by the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) and held at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Heights branch.
“The goal of this meeting is for us to have an opportunity to hear directly form small business leaders,” Quinn said in a brief statement, before taking a half-dozen questions from Brooklyn small business owners and civic association leaders.
The questions, like that of Paula Barfield, who runs a public relations firm out of her Bedford-Stuyvesant home, focused on the challenges of meeting rising health insurance costs, making payroll and paying rent at a time when consumer spending is down and revenue is in decline.
Speaking afterwards, Quinn told the Ledger/Star the city is doing everything it can to help small business owners weather the storm. Quinn cited several small business support initiatives announced by Mayor Bloomberg’s office on October 30. These include a state-funded $500,000 work force training drive, and a $5 million loan guarantee program to help small business owners obtain much-needed capital to meet monthly expenses.
“To be a small business owner in New York you have to be tough,” said Quinn. “Obviously they’re nervous and worried, but they’re responding to the nervousness by rallying, not by saying forget about it.”
Irene LoRe, director of the Park Slope 5th Avenue Business Improvement District, said she wasn’t so sure New Yorker resilience alone would be enough to deal with the economic crisis.
“I don’t know, I’m doubtful,” said LoRe, who attended the meeting. LoRe owns Aunt Suzie’s Restaurant, in Park Slope, which she started in 1987. LoRe said her restaurant has survived several recessions, but this one could be the worst.
Other small business owners left the meeting with Speaker Quinn more confident the city might begin addressing their needs.
“Now at least [small business interests] is on their agenda,” said Tremaine Wright, who owns Common Grounds, a coffee shop in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Wright said she has had trouble paying her electricity bills, which are now consistently running over $500 a month.
“The speaker said that she will look into supporting small businesses,” said Wright, “and I have to hold her to her word.”
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Carl Hum said the borough would recover with time.
“I think that the key to Brooklyn’s success in the long run is the diversity of our small business sector,” said Hum.
In fact, said Hum, by working with city officials and community leaders, Brooklyn emerged from the last recession in 2001 on stronger financial footing than the city’s other boroughs.