By Jessica Meditz
Since 1953, the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce has dedicated itself to preserving the community and helping local businesses thrive.
With factors such as gentrification and the influx of big box stores and chains, the Maspeth Chamber strives to be a voice for small businesses and mom-and-pop shops — but has struggled recently due to a lack of support and membership.
While the Maspeth Chamber has around 75 paid members, the number of active members is significantly lower — between 10 and 15 members participating in meetings and events.
It was stressed at the last chamber meeting, held on Dec. 13, that one of their biggest goals right now is to conduct outreach and get more businesses interested and excited about joining the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce.
“We definitely need more help. There’s not enough active members. We continue with the events that we’ve been doing over the years, but we really want to try and expand our business outreach, give more support to businesses and really be able to have a touch point with them and have people going around, figuring out what the issues in the community are,” said Kristen Sapienza, treasurer of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce. “Right now, we just don’t have the bandwidth to do that, because we don’t have enough active members.”
Perks that come along with being a member of the Maspeth Chamber include a free listing on their website and a link to their own site, more accessibility and communication with local government officials and candidates, free advertising via events and initiatives and the opportunity to meet and discuss community issues with fellow business people.
The Maspeth Chamber is proud to host community events that have become traditions over the years, such as the Grand Avenue Street Festival in the spring, and the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in winter during the holiday season. They’re also responsible for the ornate holiday lights along Grand Avenue.
The holiday lights along the avenue cost over $17,000 to put together. Sapienza said that while the chamber loves engaging in this tradition, the cost has become a burden, and they are seeking out community support to continue it year after year.
“Every year, it becomes more and more, and it’s a big cost. I don’t think that people realize how much it actually costs,” Sapienza said. “We do have a certain amount of businesses that do donate, but it’s only covering a fraction of the cost at this point, since they are so expensive. We’re really relying on donations from the community…we do receive a grant from the city, but again, that only covers so much.”
Another initiative the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce seeks to work out is the establishment of a Business Improvement District (BID); however, it has proven to be difficult with the lack of membership and the pandemic.
A BID would enhance city services and add additional programs that improve the business climate as well as the quality of life for all who utilize the area — including services such as sanitation, public safety, business services and public space improvements.
One immediate way to support the business community of Maspeth is to shop local this holiday season.
“Businesses over the last few years have been struggling, the economy’s not great, and COVID and everything, they really took a hard hit. When you’re supporting a local small business, you’re essentially supporting a family, and that’s why I think it’s so important to shop local,” Sapienza said. “With all the other big stores, you’re really contributing to a big corporation, but here, you’re supporting your neighbor.”
*In the print version of this story, it was incorrectly reported that the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in front of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank cost over $17,000. The holiday lights along Grand Avenue is what actually cost that amount.