Small Business Spotlight: Industry City draws scores of weekend shoppers, positions retail 'partners' to succeed

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Industry City has developed the holy grail of retailing by attracting 10,000 visitors each weekend - 75 percent of pre-pandemic volume - while investing in its tenants' recovery.

The historic complex bills itself as "Brooklyn's vibrant creative hub along the scenic waterfront of Sunset Park," housing 550 local shops, restaurants and manufacturers - many of which have suffered steep losses. But, Industry City's largely open-air space has allowed them to operate safely. About 40 percent of its tenants have reopened since the shutdown.

"They can safely come, hang out, have a drink, see some music, shop at Sahadi's, shop at Japan Village, etc. and that's really helped them considering the environment," Industry City Director of Development Jim Somoza said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

The complex owns its own streets and has sprawling outdoor dining space with large tents for inclement weather.

Somoza was part of the development team of Chelsea Market, starting in 2003, before embarking on Industry City's vision of new-age retail-tainment featuring innovative local businesses that appeal to Brooklynites and tourists alike.

He told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso about several Industry City tenants, including a blacksmith that entices customers to the waterfront space.

"While they're coming to see that, they're also buying a drink at the Frying Pan, they are going to Standard Wormwood and Brooklyn Kura," Somoza said, adding, "They bring people to the overall project."

Industry City's business plan revolves around the experience, which he describes as the "antidote to the Internet." People are itching for an outlet and Somoza anticipates high post-pandemic demand.

"When we are doing our jobs well at I.C., we're transporting people," he said.
"We're taking you away."

Shoppers can take blacksmith classes at Nazz Forge, savor chocolate as they watch it being made at Li-Lac Chocolates, and watch the Christophe Pourny Studio restore antique furniture on the other side of the glass. This connects consumers and producers on another level through an Epcot-like or Hershey Park adventure in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

It could be the model for business communities who will need to convince hardened online shoppers to shop local and in-person.

Businesses in Industry City have been set up to recover and succeed. Somoza told WCBS 880 he likes to think of their role as a "partner" to its tenants rather than a "landlord" - a word he avoids using.

"What we do is we support them," he explained.

At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Industry City offered rent breaks, changed leases to percentage rent, and helped business owners navigate the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications and requirements.

"I think that's a part of the reason, with one exception, every single one of our retailers has reopened," said Somoza.

Small and mid-size businesses there feel they are nearing the finish line at the end of an arduous year, according to Somoza, who noted many are applying for the latest round of the PPP loan.

See keys for creating economic development to recover from the pandemic on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.