A lot of businesses along Malcolm X Boulevard have closed because of the recession, according to Kenneth Mbonu, director of economic development at .
In fact, before the recession, a staggering 30 percent of the buildings along Malcolm X Boulevard – a street that runs north-south along the eastern end of Bed-Stuy – were either closed down, condemned or abandoned.
Since the recession, that number climbed to nearly 45 percent, he said.
“But Malcolm X is not dead,” insisted Mbonu. His voice rings with a sense of urgency: “Already, we’re beginning to see a resurgence of businesses owners who are looking at this street as a potential place to open their business.”
Bridge Street is working now to attract entrepreneurs and micro-businesses to the area. to encourage local residents and potential business owners to begin viewing the boulevard as a viable commercial destination.
Mbonu holds an admirable dose of optimism for the area, especially considering what it looks like now-- a dissonant mix of barber shops, frame houses, Chinese food take-outs and boarded up buildings.
The streets and sidewalks are clean (for the most part). And with so little foot traffic, the area's relatively quiet, with the biggest buzz created by the B46 bus roaring in both directions along the boulevard every few minutes.
Thanks to Bridge Street, large, colorful plant boxes are beginning to line the streets in front of some of the busier businesses-- one of the first signs that new life is budding.
But the area still struggles esthetically and dons two faces: One of hope. And the other, abandonment.
Mbonu points to at least two buildings in one block originally constructed as mixed-use residential/commercial property, but they were re-bricked and converted into private homes. A stroll up and down the boulevard reveals a plethora of such conversions.
He said, not only are these types of conversions an eyesore, but over time, they have peeled away at the area's economic development.
Also, private, single-family homes sit awkwardly between other small business, such as nail salons, restaurants and cafes, creating a disruption for those who would otherwise consider it a retail corridor.
“It’s an inconsistent streetscape. So we’re trying to re-convert it back to the way it was supposed to be,” said Mbonu. “That’s one goal.”
“Another goal is to make this a vibrant, busy corridor and make it a place that attracts non-traditional businesses, smaller, destination-type businesses that don’t need as much foot traffic to survive.
"We still have very cheap rents, compared to a lot of the surrounding neighborhoods. So it can be a home-based business that needs a commercial space that is affordable, or a business, such as , that only requires a small amount space to be profitable," he said.
"We have to be very strategic about the kind of businesses that make sense here, using our strengths such as transportation."
Mbonu added, Bridge Street is working with local lending partners to connect micro-business with financial resources that make sense for their business model.
He compares Malcolm X Boulevard of today with the Myrtle Avenue of yesterday: Ten years ago, Myrtle Avenue had similar challenges as that of Malcolm X Boulevard. But today, the Avenue thrives.
“And there are some thriving businesses along Malcolm X already,” said Mbonu. “Those are the businesses that provide products and services that match their client-base. We want to help businesses identify who are their merchants.
“If you’re a high-end business, there are certain parts of the corridor that will make sense, but other areas that will not,” said Mbonu. “But the opportunity is there. There is enormous opportunity.”
For more information about business opportunities along Malcolm X Boulevard or other areas of the neighborhood, contact Kenneth Mbonu of Bridge Street Development Corporation at 718-399-0146, ext. 19.
On Saturday, August 18, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Bridge Street Development Corporation, along with the Malcolm X Merchant Association (MXMA), will hold “Bed Styles,” a street festival at Marion Street and Malcolm X Boulevard featuring local vendors, a skate park, fashion show, live bands and more.