Commissioner of Small Business Services Promises Bright Future

Commissioner Kevin Kim made an appearance at Delmonico’s for Downtown Alliance’s celebration of legacy small businesses in Lower Manhattan that have operated for over 25 years.

| 07 Jun 2024 | 03:59

On the muggy morning of June 6, dozens of lower Manhattan small business owners gathered at the landmark restaurant Delmonico’s to commemorate their perseverance as legacy businesses in New York for over 25 years.

The event was organized by the Downtown Alliance, which started a legacy business program to honor the diligence it takes to stay afloat in the city and withstand decades of change, and sometimes, disaster. Each business present, most of them restaurants or bars, stayed open through 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, the 2008 financial crisis, and COVID. Some businesses go as far back as history textbooks, like Fraunces Tavern which has operated for 305 years. Barclay Rex, a tobacco shop started by a pipe maker from Salerno, Italy, has been open since 1910.

The historical significance of these businesses is evident in the fact that many are family-owned and have been since day one. Delmonico’s, the host of the event, is famous for its family’s long-standing battle for ownership over the restaurant. Jeremy’s Ale House, one of the city’s last real dive bars, is owned and operated by founder Jeremy Holin and his son Lee. Holin recalled the crowd that formed in their South Street Seaport bar on 9/11, packed with people begging to use the house phone to call loved ones and relay news of the tragedy.

“We gave out hamburgers and hot dogs and lined the walls with barrels of free water,” said Holin.

“But not free beer!” added his son.

Owners of The Irish Punt and The Full Shilling, both Irish bars and restaurants in the Financial District, remembered with horror the challenges of Hurricane Sandy. The damage in Southern Manhattan was devastating— basements flooded with water and sand, destroying all the liquor inventory and certainly all of the food. Phone and computer lines went down. In an already cutthroat industry, the loss seemed irredeemable.

And yet, they all survived, and that perseverance alone makes these small businesses worthy of success. But in a globalized, post-COVID age, they are often the underdogs— a fact that the Adams administration is working hard to change. Kevin Kim, the Commissioner for the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) was present at the reception and offered a few words.

“Small businesses keep the city alive through challenging periods,” said Kim. “At SBS, we are not just trying to help small businesses stay alive, but help them expand and keep growing, too.”

SBS is a local city agency created around thirty years ago that acts as a middleman between businesses and the government, helping with licensing, permitting, and funding. This year, they created an $85 million fund for over a hundred businesses through partnerships with Mastercard and Goldman Sachs. Kim made it clear to the business owners in the room that SBS is a tool, eager to be employed whenever necessary.

“It’s a one-stop shop for all businesses and business-related services,” said Kim. “We help people navigate government agencies, provide lawyers, capital access, mentoring services, grants— all for free.”

Kim continued to say that he and the Adams administration as a whole believe the government needs to change the way they engage with small businesses, and vice versa.

“We see a lot of business owners frustrated with the red tape bureaucracy,” said Kim.

This sentiment was certainly expressed by the small business veterans in the room: “The city screwed me my whole life,” said Holin of Jeremy’s Ale House. “We didn’t survive because of the city, we survived in spite of it. The hardest part of running a business in New York is dealing with New York.”

Despite past reservations, there was a hopeful and jovial quality to the event. What a feat it is to withstand New York’s challenges so repeatedly that your business becomes part of the city’s history itself. Holin concluded with, “It’s the hardest place in the world to run a small business. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”