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1.5 LU / 1.5 HSW

*This event will be occurring as a live webinar. Registrants will be emailed a link to access the program.*

A well-designed storefront offers transparency from the street into the business within. “Storefront” also describes the open relationship between a business and the public, often referring to a specific type of business, one with a more direct connection to the public. Even before the pandemic, we were witnessing an alarming increase in the number of empty stores in retail districts across all five boroughs. How can we work towards maintaining the charming shopping and dining experience so beloved by New Yorkers and our visitors?

This program will highlight efforts already in place pre-pandemic to assist in revitalizing New York City storefronts and facades by offering financial assistance and design guidelines. These efforts are administered by the NYC Department of Small Business Services and local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). The panel will present an overview of existing city efforts. Current initiatives along Jamaica Avenue in Queens and Pitkin Avenue in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn will be presented as detailed case studies. The impact of this form of incremental urban revitalization will be explored as a model for future work.

Michael Blaise Backer
, Deputy Commissioner, Neighborhood Development Division, NYC Department of Small Business Services
Natalie Mendell, Director of Business Recovery, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce
Jesse Gericke, Planning Director, Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District

Laura Heim, FAIA  Principal, Laura Heim Architect

About the speakers:
Michael Blaise Backer
is the Deputy Commissioner of the Neighborhood Development Division (NDD) at the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS). In this role, Blaise oversees a team of 28 urban planners and economic development professionals focused on supporting the City’s neighborhood commercial districts by partnering with over 100 community-based development organizations. Blaise and his team launched the Neighborhood 360° initiative, a first-of-its-kind partnership between SBS and community non-profits that invests in conducting local needs assessment and multi-year planning and commercial revitalization opportunities in targeted neighborhoods. Through this initiative, Blaise expanded the division’s annual non-profit grantmaking from $1.4M to $4.5M per year. Blaise is also responsible for oversight of the City’s 76 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), the largest network in the country, which invest more than $171 million annually in locally customized programs and services for commercial districts across the five boroughs. Before joining SBS in May of 2014, Blaise was the Executive Director of the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, comprised of a BID and LDC in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, for 10 years. Blaise also served terms as the board co-chair and treasurer of the New York City BID Association, the membership association of all of New York City’s BIDs. Prior to working in the non-profit field, Blaise was an information technology consultant in the private sector, working in Washington DC, Dusseldorf, Germany, and Madrid, Spain. Blaise holds a Master in Urban Planning from NYU Wagner and a BS in Commerce from the University of Virginia.

Natalie Mendell is the Director of Business Recovery at the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, an organization that represents and supports businesses across the borough. There, she oversees the Chamber’s numerous interventions to lead New York City’s economic recovery for small businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. She is the Chamber’s chief liaison to the NYC Small Business Resource Network, a citywide initiative that enables the Chamber to provide personalized guidance and recovery resources to struggling small businesses, sometimes on-site at their stores or offices. There is a particular focus on minority-, women- and immigrant-owned businesses. She also oversees the Chamber’s efforts to distribute free face masks and hand sanitizer to small businesses and to enhance the e-commerce capabilities of small businesses so they can better compete in the online marketplace. Before joining the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Mendell was the Storefront Improvement Program Manager for the NYC Department of Small Business Services, where she planned and executed $200k in facade improvements resulting in 19 renovated storefronts. Prior to working for Small Business Services, Mendell worked for the Grant Street Business Improvement District where she focused on district marketing and business retention. Mendell holds a BA in Communication and Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Jesse Gericke is the Planning Director at the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) in Brownsville, Brooklyn. In this role, Gericke oversees the Pitkin Avenue Renaissance Program, a grant-funded façade improvement program aimed at restoring Pitkin Avenue’s mixed-use architecture. Launched in 2016, the program has resulted in 13 façade restorations and awarded nearly $500,000 in grants to building owners and merchants. Gericke also oversees a variety of SBS-funded special initiatives aimed at revitalizing the Pitkin Avenue commercial corridor through the activation of vacant storefronts, business attraction and retention, placemaking and streetscape beautification. These include the Storefront for Brownsville, an annual pop-up market that offers Brownsville’s emerging entrepreneurs and small business owners affordable vending opportunities. Before joining the BID in 2015, Gericke was at V+B Architecture and Urban Planning, assisting in the SI Imagines Planning forum, a series of post-Hurricane Sandy participatory planning workshops on Staten Island’s East Shore. Gericke holds a Masters in Urban Planning from CUNY Hunter College and a BA in History from CUNY City College. He lives in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn with his wife and cat.

Laura Heim, FAIA, LEED AP, established her award winning, 100% woman-owned, neighborhood-based studio in a storefront in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens after two decades of practice. For the past 15 years, her work has been neighborhood focused with the storefront location making it part of the street life with other shop owners on Lewis Mumford Way (Skillman Avenue) in Sunnyside. The initial focus of the office was on the restoration of the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District, which she was instrumental in having designated a landmark district in 2007. The firm has completed over 30 projects at various scales, both interiors and exteriors, incrementally over a decade proved to enhance the quality of life of the neighborhood. Heim is currently working with non-profit groups to restore homes and storefronts in Jamaica, Queens, and Brownsville, Brooklyn. These programs recognize the importance of creating a welcoming environment for the livelihood of the neighborhood. She has taught architectural design at the University of Virginia and University of Florida, among other universities. Heim served as president of the AIA Queens 2009 and 2010. She received her BS in Architecture from the University of Virginia, awarded the Alpha Rho Chi Medal and Shannon Prize, and her Master’s in Architecture from Columbia University, honored with the AIA Henry Adams Medal.

Organized by
AIA New York
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