Inside the Hustle and Bustle of Small Business in Brooklyn

It's hard work being a mom-and-pop, but the city tries to help with red tape and ventures like DeKalb Market Hall embrace local talent

Gregg Bishop, the city's commissioner of Small Business Services, visits Dulcinea, a vendor in DeKalb Market Hall (Photos by Arden Phillips)

It’s National Small Business Week, time to celebrate the mom-and-pops of Brooklyn. So what’s happening with that? To find out, The Bridge started with a visit to DeKalb Market Hall, that Disneyland of 40 food vendors in City Point. City officials and executives put on a press conference Monday to talk about what they’re doing to help the little guys, as well as announce discounts this week of 10% to 15% from 17 of Dekalb’s vendors (complete list at end of story).

Gregg Bishop, the city’s commissioner of Small Business Services (SBS), said the agency helped 37 of the hall’s vendors to set up shop, which got them up and running 60 days sooner than originally anticipated last year. “We want small businesses to succeed and it’s no surprise that they have a better chance of success once they’re open,” he said. All told, SBS has come to the assistance of 3,000 small-business startups since the beginning of the de Blasio Administration, Bishop said. Despite rising costs of doing business in Brooklyn, the borough has about 50,000 businesses with 20 or fewer workers, an increase of about 40% since 2000.

One of the top priorities of SBS, he said, is to help business owners deal with the city’s bureaucracy. “We cut red tape so that businesses can open faster, at absolutely no cost to business owners. We will work one-on-one with them to navigate government rules and regulations. We’ll facilitate interactions with the city,” he said, for example by helping owners apply for licenses and permits as well as offering them guidance for dealing with potential violations. “We recognize that small businesses deserve national attention for more than just one week, which is why we work year round to provide the support and resources they need to operate successfully in New York City.”

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DeKalb Market Hall chief Castellani, center, said the venue was designed to showcase small business

Anna Castellani, managing partner of the market hall and owner of Foragers Market, said that Dekalb is by design a collection of small businesses. “I opened and conceived this hall really to be a neighborhood hub. I wanted this to be an unusual incubator with high personality and where everybody felt super comfortable to come and spend an afternoon with their families. And we’ve done that. There’s something for everybody down here,” Castellani said.

What do Brooklyn consumers get from small businesses that they might not get from the chain stores that have been marching into Brooklyn lately? “I think they get great customer service, they get great products, and they get unique products that they couldn’t find otherwise,” said Samara Karasyk, executive vice president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “And they get to know people in their neighborhood that want to help them and want to employ them–or their family or friends. So it’s really important to get out there and go to these businesses.”

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Donuts in the fryer at DeKalb vendor Cuzin’s Dozen

The very next day, Karasyk was in the borough’s Midwood section for a “small-business mixer” presented by the Chamber and hosted by Investors Bank at its branch on Avenue M. Eli Douek, who runs a bookkeeping business in the neighborhood, said the local economy is thriving. “Everything is growing around here. It’s a great area. As soon as a storefront is empty, it’s taken over right away,” he said. Even so, running a small business has its trials, he said. “To get new clients is the main challenge, getting the word out,” Douek said.

The mixer drew business people from other neighborhoods hoping to make new contacts in Midwood. Andrew Balkam, founder of Canny Capital Management in Brooklyn Heights, was looking for new customers for his investment advisory. “I want to reach as many parts of Brooklyn as I can. I could just knock on doors in my neighborhood and do all right, but I wouldn’t be capturing the diverse population of the borough,” he said.

At a small-business mixer in Midwood, entrepreneurs mingled with bankers and Chamber officials (Photo by Steve Koepp)

Kari Timonen, an insurance broker who lives in Park Slope, stressed the importance of showing up in person, even in the age of finding leads and doing business online. “At the beginning of the relationship, you always want to meet first, face-to-face, to build trust.” Among his products growing in popularity right now, he said, are long-term care insurance and cybersecurity coverage.  “Every business that holds customer information has to have protection, because if there’s a breach, it’s very costly,” he said.

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Michael Blinder, an assistant vice president at Investors Bank, said he is seeing a booming level of investment in Midwood and the surrounding neighborhoods. “People know that south Brooklyn is really hot. They see the money is here.” In particular, new developments are being built for mixed use, combining residential and retail. That includes major brands “moving to where you live,” he said. But with luck–and help from the city–there will be opportunities for small business too.

A list of vendors offering discounts at Dekalb Market Hall this week: 10% off at Bella Cheese, BK Jani, Dekalb Taco, Bunker, Dulcinea, Eight Turn Crepe, Likkle More Jerk, Jianbing Company, Home Frite, Paella Shack, Cuzin’s Duzin and Pierogi Boys; 15% off at Bunsmith and Daigo Hand Roll Bar; 10% off all purchases over $8 at Guss’ Pickles; and $1 off all purchases over $10 at Fletcher’s barbecue.

With additional reporting by Stephen Koepp

Arden Phillips is a New York-based writer and a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she received a degree in Television, Radio, and Film.