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NYC Comptroller visits Flushing businesses

Lander connects local business owners to city resources

As part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander ventured out into the streets of downtown Flushing last week to visit with Asian-owned small businesses.

Lander met with Flushing BID Director Dian Yu to speak with businesses in Downtown Flushing.

Dian Yu, executive director of Flushing’s Business Improvement District, met with Lander, intent on engaging in dialogue with entrepreneurs, learning more about their day-to-day lives, hearing their concerns, and connecting them with the appropriate city resources to best meet their needs.

“Asian American small businesses are such an important part of New York City. Many of them had a hard time during the pandemic; from the very beginning, they were some of the first businesses that were hit,” Lander said.

“But if we’re going to have the recovery that brings the city back and brings people opportunities to start businesses and get them jobs to thrive in New York City, it’s going to run through businesses like this.”

Lander’s first stop was to meet with Robert Cheng, the owner of Golden Shopping Mall on Main Street.

The mall was forced to shut down as the result of a fire, but Cheng renovated his property and brought in new tenants.

Cheng’s chief complaint was the fact that a few of his tenants could not open up their businesses due to delays in getting permits approved and securing fire inspections.

“We have to open,” Cheng said. “My tenant is frustrated.”

“Everyone is ready to go and we’re just waiting,” he continued. “Once the inspection is done, they can finalize and open, because nobody wants to dump money in here to sit here for months.”

Lander supported the various businesses he visited, including Tong Ren Tang, a Chinese herbal shop.

In response, Lander called Laura Kavanagh, the FDNY fire commissioner. She acknowledged that the department is understaffed and facing time-related issues, and said that a multi-point plan to expedite the process has been brought to the attention of Mayor Eric Adams.

“The more that we can tell businesses that we’re hearing them and we’re working on this, the better for everyone,” Kavanagh said. “We want to be a part of the city’s recovery,” she continued. “So even though we’re underwater as many people are, we think the city’s recovery is as much our responsibility as anyone else’s.”

In addition to addressing the needs of businesses in Flushing, Lander also paid visits to business owners who gave back to the community during the height of the pandemic.

Maxi Lau of Maxi’s Noodle was presented with a commendation from Lander for her community service.

He presented Maxi Lau, owner of Maxi’s Noodle on 38th Avenue, and Young Jin Gee, who owns Korean beauty store Aritaum on Union Street, with commendations for their efforts.

Lau opened up her business mid-pandemic, and despite just getting started, she and her father visited local hospitals each week to donate authentic, handmade wontons to healthcare workers.

Gee, who’s been in business for over 20 years, committed herself to handing out PPE to other businesses on Union Street.

“It’s really encouraging. What we need to bring New York City back is the energy of entrepreneurs like the ones we see in Flushing today,” Lander said.
“We have to think about what the city can do to help. There’s so much entrepreneurial creativity, and in some ways it’s just the city getting out of people’s way.”

On the last stop of the tour, Lander spoke with John Park, executive director of Minkwon Center for Community Action, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving, educating, and organizing low-income Korean, Asian, and immigrant communities since 1984.

They discussed a myriad of topics including the organization’s Hate Free Zone — an initiative to create safe spaces for Asian Americans in downtown Flushing — given the rising number of hate crimes occurring in that community.

“We didn’t think we were really moving the needle with the typical tools: refining or clarifying hate crime legislation, which is important. Even if you have that kind of legislation, and we support it, it’s not a deterrent,” Park said.

Lander met with John Park executive director of Minkwon Center for Community Action to discuss issues impacting the Asian community in Flushing.

“Our approach is that moving the culture is better than moving policy, because what we do recognize is you cannot cannot legislate racism out, or we cannot police racism,” he continued. “These are not the right tools for the problems we’re trying to analyze. The right solution is actually a community-driven initiative.”

Park also brought up the issue of a lack of language accessibility within city resources for those who do not speak English.

Lander said that his office is launching the next phase in its language accessibility work, and trying to figure out how it can partner with other organizations and media to open up the conversation for those who need resources.

“Finding out how the city can help people, where the city is causing problems, or where the city could get out of people’s way is really important,” he said.
“There’s nothing like coming out and meeting people on the ground and hearing what’s working and also what we have to fix — so we can support folks like you and other entrepreneurs that are making Flushing and our whole city the place we love.”

LIC Business Wins Big at ‘Make It Awards’

For the fifth consecutive year, the New York Knicks and Squarespace hosted the Make It Awards, which support and celebrate the small, local businesses and entrepreneurs that help New York City thrive.

Hosted at Madison Square Garden, the Make It Awards honors four winners, presenting them with a $30,000 grant to further expand their mission.

This year’s winners include Adapt Ability, a Brooklyn nonprofit that provides custom adaptive bicycles for children with special needs; Harlem Pilates, which helps make health and wellness accessible to diverse communities; Legally BLK Fund, dedicated to supporting aspiring Black women attorneys by providing them with various resources; and COVERR, a Queens-based business that provides financial services that are customized for the gig economy, empowering workers to reach their highest earning potential.

Based in Long Island City, COVERR offers workers a better alternative to a credit card or loan by eliminating traditional barriers.

Kobina Ansah, the company’s founder, said that COVERR started out by him passing out flyers and interviewing Uber/Lyft drivers in Queens, which has grown significantly since.

Kobina Ansah.

“It really started out with finding out initially that Uber drivers in New York often pay somewhere between $350 to $500 plus dollars per week to rent the car that they’ll never actually own,” Ansah said.

“It became very clear to me that more than auto finance, liquidity or just cash management was a bigger challenge for Uber drivers, and shortly after, that started providing our business financing and people started getting inquiries from other parts of the gig economy.”

Ansah said that coming from a family of Ghanaian immigrants, he knows what it’s like to be part of an underrepresented community, which is why COVERR’s mission is so important to him.

He said that when he previously worked at Wells Fargo, he did not get to support a lot of people who look like him, and is grateful to now be able to provide services to underserved market segments.

“That’s what compelled me to start to focus on people who worked in emerging markets like the gig economy, which happens to be one of the fastest growing labor segments,” he said. “It happens to be represented by over 50 percent of those who work in the U.S. economy currently are members of the BIPOC community.”

Ansah said he was stunned to have been recognized in the Make It Awards, especially upon discovering that 750 other businesses applied.

He added that with the $30,000 grant, COVERR will use the funds to help further automate the underwriting practice, which will speed up the application process for clients, creating a job board to create greater resources for all clients and research and development.

“Being in a city as vibrant as New York, I knew the competitive landscape was huge And so I feel very fortunate to be selected,” Ansah said. “Honestly, it’s an affirmation of the hard work that we do, and the importance of the work that we’re doing.”

Small Business Saturday highlights local businesses

Small businesses were given a big platform this past weekend as part of Small Business Saturday.
Over a dozen small businesses set up shop in the King Manor House Museum in Jamaica to showcase and sell their goods.
For executive director Kelsey Brow, the sight of local vendors selling their products was a special one.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Brow. “I moved from the suburbs of Denver to New York City on purpose to get away from big box stores.”
Brow said it was significant to lend the historic space to local vendors who might not have a brick-and-mortar store. From beauty and healthcare products to artisan jewelry, the first floor of the museum was filled with 16 small businesses, a majority of them based in Queens.
Among them were Sha’s House of Bling, JBM Jewelry, Beauty Bar and Mr. X Stock Market Academy.
“It’s really meaningful, especially because we’re in such a central location,” said Brow. “It’s exciting to have such a wide variety of vendors here today.”
The event was curated by Adrienne Whaley, executive director of the Queens Underground International Film Festival.
Whaley, an artist and entrepreneur who sells her own soaps, set up her display of products alongside the other local small businesses for the all-day event just down the road from her own studio.
“It was important before and now it’s magnified because none of these people have a storefront,” said Whaley on the support of small businesses. “Since the pandemic, it’s become even more important. Shopping online is okay, but here you can talk to the vendors and you can touch the items.”
Whaley also curated a selection of over 30 music and poetry videos that were screened in the parlor of the historic house. A room once used for entertainment purposes was repurposed for the showcase event.
“Of course they didn’t have film back then, but they would have had magic lantern shows, kind of like an old-fashioned slide projector but it was hand done,” Brow explained.
In Astoria, an outdoor holiday event brought out families to Steinway Street and 31st Avenue, where crowds were treated to carolers from Christmas Matters, a puppet show by Penny and the Puppettes, and holiday music performances by the Academia De Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer.
Sponsored by the Steinway Astoria Partnership, the holiday event aimed to bring the community together to support the over 300 businesses on Steinway Street.
“It’s a ‘thank you’ to the residents of Astoria and the Steinway community,” said executive director Marie Torniali. “This little part of Queens is made up of families of many, many different cultures. They all come together as one. Hopefully they’ll support the small businesses that line the streets here.”

My Plastic Heart opens Greenpoint store

Since 2004, My Plastic Heart has been selling new, collectible, and vintage toys through its online store and later at a brick-and-mortar location in the East Village.
Earlier this year, store owner Vincent Yu and his team packed up and moved their in-person operation across the river to 40 Greenpoint Avenue, only one block away from the North Brooklyn waterfront.
“We were fairly familiar with the neighborhood and have friends here,” Yu explained during an interview. “We’ve also done shows at the [Brooklyn EXPO] convention center and we’ve been following the area as it’s developed over the past ten years.
“We were either going to stay in Manhattan or move here, and when we saw this space we knew we would never find anything like this again,” he added.
Although My Plastic Heart continues to sell a large amount of toys online, Yu believes that an in-person store adds to the toy-buying experience.
“A lot of it has to do with what we sell, it’s very tactile,” Yu said. “It also helps people know the size of a toy. Many times people have come in and said, ‘oh it’s bigger than I thought’ or ‘it’s so small.’”
My Plastic Heart is also hoping to fill a void in the Greenpoint community, which currently lacks many proper toy stores.
“We didn’t see anything like this in this area,” Yu said. “There are so many kids here who love to have somewhere to go. There are a lot of families and kids, and this feels like a great place for them.”
Ironically, the toys on sale at My Plastic Heart are traditionally targeted for an older demographic, namely adults ages 25 to 35. As Yu explains, big kids like himself are particularly attached to the media they consumed when they were younger.
Now that his generation is older and has some money in their pockets, they are ready to spend it on some nostalgia-infused plastic.
“When we were growing up, we had no computers, we had barely just gotten cable,” Yu explained of his own upbringing in Flushing. “We watched our three channels on TV and then wanted the toys from those three channels. That’s kind of where a lot of this comes from.
“It has a lot to do with nostalgia,” Yu added while picking up a Run-DMC action figure. “Some companies take toy licenses from the 80s from the 90s and recreate them. It’s not for kids, because no kids today are going to know Run-DMC.”
My Plastic Heart’s quirky dedication to the toys of yesteryear has already struck a chord with Greenpointers. Yu and company attribute the success, in part, to the dynamic sidewalks of North Brooklyn’s neighborhoods.
“From where we came from it’s like night and day,” he said. “That area was all commercial. Here, families and other people can just walk into stores.”
Having found great success in the area already, Yu hopes that My Plastic Heart can inspire others to take what they are passionate about and share it.
“If it’s really your passion, there is never a bad time to do it [start a business],” Yu said. “Even during the pandemic, we were able to make the best of it. So if it’s your passion, there are plenty of resources to learn about in New York City that can help you make it happen.”
My Plastic Heart is currently open Friday from 1 to 8 p.m., Saturday from 1 to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. The store is also open by appointment Monday through Thursday, but you can usually find a staff member inside ready to help if you happen to walk by.

Yaro brings ceramics, clay to Greenpoint

The streets around the Greenpoint waterfront are quickly becoming more and more developed with high-rise towers, however the area is still home to some genuine beacons of creativity and community.
Such is the case with Yaro, a new community arts center nestled quietly into the storefront of 76 Kent Street. Focusing on ceramics, clay, textiles, and other hands-on artistic mediums, the space plans on hosting artisans of all trades and already offers classes teaching local residents new skills.
Founder Andrea Kamini Parikh discussed the origin story and mission statement behind Greenpoint’s newest small business.
“I left a corporate job to start this,” Parikh said during an interview last week.
Raised in Texas, Parikh previously worked at a large architecture firm in the Lone Star State, where she quickly grew tired of the money-focused mindset driving the work. She decided it was time for a change, and set her sights on creating a new business — in a new city — that would be more fulfilling.
“I signed the lease right before COVID,” Parikh explained of Yaro’s Kent Street location. “That ended up being a good thing. I talked a lot on the phone with Diana [Rojas, Yaro’s Studio Manager] and was able to really explain my ideas, my thoughts about what the aesthetic should be, and how to execute it.”
Parikh is also relatively new to Greenpoint, and even though she had some concerns before moving because of the widespread gentrification in the area, she has since found her place among a wide network of like-minded friends and artists.
“I come from a mixed race, multicultural, multi-religious background, so I was a little concerned about living around just rich people,” Parikh said. “ I live on the other side of Greenpoint though, the manufacturing side, and it’s kind of like I know everyone over there.
“I know all the businesses, the places to always go to,” she added. “It’s almost like there are two different sides of Greenpoint.”
Parikh is hopeful that her work can support and encourage other groups trying to find their place in the greater North Brooklyn community.
“I think there’s a responsibility that you have to be aware of as a business owner,” Parikh said. “Our end goal here isn’t just to make a lot of money. Yes, you need enough to pay rent, but we are hoping to also incorporate a methodology and practice that supports artisans and teaches people something new through classes and workshops.”
Parikh has been fascinated with the arts her whole life, and spent her childhood learning how to work with clay, ceramics, and any other material she could get her hands on.
At Yaro, Parikh hopes to instill this same passion in others and to show people just how much they can accomplish with their own hands.
“I think it gives people agency,” Parikh explained. “If you can teach people to create a thing, then that teaches them that they can create things in other places in their life. It reminds people what it is like to really dive into something physical. There is something meditative about being really invested in a project.
“There’s a tactility to many materials, like clay for example,” she added. “There’s this approachability, like it’s inherent in our being that we know what to do with it. Maybe Patrick Swayze and Ghost helped out a bit too, but sitting at a throwing wheel feels natural and approachable for a lot of people.”
Currently, Yaro is offering wheel throwing ceramic classes, handbuilt sculptural tableware classes, and other workshops. In the future, Parikh and the team at Yaro are planning on inviting artisans from around the world to visit and work in the space as well.
For the time being though, Parikh hopes that her team’s success can inspire other people to pursue their passion in a way that will contribute something positive to their community.
“I think it’s really important, even for myself, to take some time and provide some space for yourself, to find a bit of balance in life,” Parikh explained. “We all make a lot of excuses to work really hard and be stressed all the time, but we work better and smarter when we are happier. So whether it’s making something physically, or cooking, or whatever, finding that balance is really important.”

Yang talks small business investment in Queens visit

Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang sat down with Thomas Lo, culinary director of Spy C Cuisine, to discuss what the city could do to support minority entrepreneurship.
Part of Yang’s approach is establishing a people’s bank of New York. The proposal would ensure that every New Yorker can access basic financial products and services, like checking accounts, but also support small business lending in underserved communities by guaranteeing loans and loan portfolios.
Spy C Cuisine is one of two Michelin-recognized restaurants in Forest Hills, and is located on Austin Street alongside many other small stores and eateries. It’s an area of Queens where the economic impact of COVID has resulted in numerous vacant storefronts.
“When I see a closed storefront, I see a family that invested years and years of blood, sweat and tears into trying to make that business work,” he said. “I’m very passionate about trying to be a true partner to small business owners and trying to make sure that as many small businesses can survive and reopen their doors as is possible.”
The bank would work closely with small business lenders and existing financial institutions that specialize in community development. By guaranteeing a level of losses, the bank would assume the risk that these institutions face in lending and incentivize them to be more inclusive.
“We have a two-year window to try and get this recovery right before the federal money runs out,” Yang said. To me, small business investment is a very effective way to go.”
Lo was born in Queens and has lived in Forest Hills for five years. In 2000, he was sleeping on his grandmother’s couch when he deferred from medical school to pursue his culinary passion instead.
Two decades later, Lo is a board-certified anesthesiologist, a former “Iron Chef America” contestant, and part-owner of one of Forest Hill’s most distinctive restaurants. He’s built his life around balance and describes himself as a “doctor by day and chef by night.”
“It’s always been my goal to introduce New York to how good Chinese cuisine is,” said Lo. “There’s more to it than beef and broccoli, and we love showing people how delicate and balanced our flavors are.”

Asian-owned businesses receive $10K grants

Ten Asian-owned small businesses received a helping hand from Fiserv, a leading global provider of payments and financial services technology.
At last week’s event at Citi Field, which was hosted in recognition of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, each small business received a $10,000 grant to support their ongoing operations and continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Minority-owned businesses continue to be disproportionately impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many Asian-owned businesses encountering prejudice in addition to economic impact,” said Fiserv senior vice president Mia Shernoff. ”Today’s grant recipients are pillars in their local communities.”
Grants were awarded as part of the Fiserv Back2Business program, a $50 million commitment to support small, minority-owned business that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and social unrest.
In addition to the grants, each small business was presented with a Clover Flex handheld point-of-sale device from Fiserv, with built-in capabilities to accept payments, conduct business, and track sales. Businesses also received a customized New York Mets jersey and tickets to an upcoming Mets game at Citi Field.
“We are proud that our home in Flushing is also home to more Asian and Pacific Islander New Yorkers than any neighborhood in the City,” said Mets president Sandy Alderson. “These grants will bring awareness and assist minority-owned businesses to get back to business.”
The small businesses receiving grants included:
• 3N Convenience – Binita Shah’s convenience store serves customers in the Bronx.
• 886 – Eric Sze and Andy Chuang fuse their Taiwanese heritage with New York City to create an ingenious, exciting restaurant experience.
• Big D’s Grub Truck – Dennis Kum offers food influenced by Chinese and Ghana roots. In 2020, his truck served first responders, hospital workers and others in need.
• Coffee Project New York – Owners Chi Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh not only serve coffee, they teach others how to make it professionally.
• Contra – Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske’s restaurant showcases New York state’s best produce, with a focus on natural wine.
• Erawan Thai Cuisine – Paul Lim’s restaurant has been part of the Queens community since 1999.
• Heart of Dinner – Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai fight food insecurity and isolation among Asian American seniors in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
• Maxi’s Noodle – Maxi Lau’s restaurant serves dumplings and Hong Kong-style foods.
• Pho Che – David Lee oversees this local Vietnamese restaurant that’s a favorite for delivery.
• Wowfulls – David Chan brings Instagram-worthy 1950’s-style egg waffles, a popular Hong Kong dessert, to New York City.
“The past year has been tough for small businesses in Queens, as we were the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic,” said Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “As the most diverse county in America, minority-owned businesses add to the unique character of our neighborhoods, are essential to our local economy and will play a pivotal role in our borough’s recovery.”

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