In the thick of grassroots volunteer work that has blossomed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, efforts to support and preserve the many small businesses that make this city what it is have grown like wildflowers. And rightfully so. Occupy Sandy's contributions notwithstanding, the city's small businesses have been helping to lead the charge: from Matt and Allison Robicelli's 24/7 relief center to the 7,394 free meals served by NYC Food Truck Association members in affected areas (and the $51,761 donated through IndieGoGo), there are innumerable examples.
The number of individuals and businesses who have pitched in to help will likely remain uncounted. That many of these same businesses could close in the following months due to losses is a looming reality. In a good week, many hang on by the thread of a needle—they don't need a hurricane to push them over the edge.
After assessing the effect Sandy was going to have on New York's already fragile small business ecosystem, Allison and Matt Robicelli—whose post-Sandy relief efforts we profiled last week—called their friend Peter Shankman.
"I was just trying to do a favor," the angel investor, who has known the Robicellis through the food industry, said. Hoping to spur consumer support, Allison began putting together a list of all things small business in New York. Shankman connected the dots. "I just reached out to these people."
That includes Adam Friedman, the director of the Pratt Center, and Josh Eichen, an industrial fellow at Pratt. Founded 50 years ago, the Center was originally launched to help communities rebuild affordable housing. In the last ten years, their focus has shifted towards helping manufacturers of all stripes stay in New York. This has been done in good part through the Made In NYC website, a directory of some 900 New York-based companies originally launched after the 9/11 attacks to better connect New Yorkers to their local businesses.
In the weeks leading up to the hurricane, Friedman and his team had already been working on updating the website's design to make it more user-friendly. (Last Tuesday, Friedman promised that, within a week, "any consumer will be able to use it.") Teams of Pratt students have been mobilized to visit and speak with businesses in an effort to make certain they are in fact New York-based; as of Tuesday, 150 to 175 have already been checked.
Asked what businesses could do, Friedman suggest that they start by registering with the website immediately. Currently, there are some 200 food businesses listed. The website won't be used for transactions; rather, it is a way of "aggregating support." The Pratt Center's goal here is to make shopping local easy. In turn, Friedman asks consumers for patience.
"It's another opportunity to drive sales to companies whose inventories have been wiped out, a way of reinvesting in your community," he said. "One of the issues is that companies lost inventory, and how are they going to finance the sales? Consider [purchasing from them] as a short term loan. If people start buying now, they'll have the cash to produce going forward."
It is important to remember that not all of New York's food companies are restaurants. Some may, like the Robicellis, lack proper storefronts. But they, too, were affected by Hurricane Sandy and are just as much a vital part of this city's economic and cultural fabric. While dining out is an important way to support the recovery, we'd ask that, when doing your holiday or corporate shopping, you consider Made In NYC.