The Bronx Chamber of Commerce is on a growth trajectory as it celebrates this month’s double occasion: Bronx Week and NYC Small Business Month.
The chamber has grown from about 150 members pre-pandemic to almost 500, according to Michael Brady, the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development and policy.
Its members include small and medium-sized businesses, as well as larger organizations like the New York Botanical Garden, New York Yankees and the Bronx Zoo.
The chamber just welcomed 50 new members who joined this year at a breakfast on May 2, and the organization has been averaging 40-50 new members per quarter, Brady, who recently stepped down from a separate position as the CEO of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District, told the Bronx Times. The chamber hosts the breakfasts every quarter, with the next one scheduled for July.
The organization is aiming to have 1,000 members by January 2024.
The chamber has upped its support for members with the recent Feb. 15 hiring of Membership Associate Kashawn Wright to ensure members have “unfettered access to member benefits, advocacy and business programs to help them advance their business and also the economic development of the Bronx,” Brady said.
But the organization also assists small businesses that aren’t paying members of the organization through its Small Business Resource Network, a program born out of the pandemic that offers a myriad of free services to businesses in the Bronx ranging from Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises certification to individualized business planning and navigating government. Almost 3,000 businesses — mostly non-members — have utilized the free services in 2022-2023, according to Brady.
“It’s our mission, regardless of whether you’re a member or not, to make sure that we help every small business that wants our support,” Brady said.
Lisa Sorin, the chamber’s president, told the Bronx Times that the COVID-19 pandemic changed much of the organization’s mission.
“As businesses began to succumb to the pressures of the pandemic, The Chamber took on more of a holistic community approach to advance economic development and provide a more comprehensive business plan for the borough,” she said. “We began to organize and build coalitions, provide strategic business services, participate and publish research and data analysis, and foster a more robust dialogue between business, government and the civic sector to achieve a more inclusive and vibrant economy.”
The chamber is partnering with Bronx Week organizers — the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, Bronx Tourism Council and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson — to host the Business Luncheon on May 16 and the annual Bankers Breakfast on May 18.
At the luncheon, Sorin, Meisha Porter, the former Department of Education chancellor and president of The Bronx Community Foundation, and Lourdes Zapata, president and CEO of South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, will be honored with awards.
Bronx Week is a series of events that celebrate the borough from May 8 through the end of the month.
But this month isn’t just for celebrating the Bronx, but all of the businesses in it.
The chamber helped launch NYC Small Business Month at Yankee Stadium on May 2 with the NYC Department of Small Business Services, the New York Yankees and the borough president’s office to highlight the impacts small businesses have on economic development in the Bronx and citywide.
To continue celebrating, the chamber is hosting a networking event and celebration for industrial manufacturers, makers, brewers and distillers, and their fans at Bronx Brewery on May 23.
On June 6, the chamber’s Annual Legislative Breakfast will bring together city and state legislators with members of the chamber. This year’s event will focus on infrastructure, criminal justice reform, business regulations and policies to address changes in the financial sector, Brady said.
The chamber was first founded in 1894. Some of the organization’s points of pride include helping the creation of Fordham Plaza, securing funds to create the Hunts Point Terminal Market and campaigning to keep the Yankees — when George Steinbrenner was mulling a move — in the Bronx in 1986.
But the organization wasn’t always a steady force, falling apart in the 1990s before reemerging under Elias Karmon — known as “Mr. Bronx” — in the early 2000s.
A 2002 New York Times report said “the century-old” organization “gradually lost membership and died a slow death in the 1990s,” leaving the Bronx as the only borough without an umbrella organization representing its businesses.
Karmon, who was 92 at the time of the report, was president of the old chamber from 1978-1981 and spearheaded the effort of the “New Bronx Chamber of Commerce,” according to the report.
The chamber has again transitioned to new leadership with Chair Anthony Mormille just beginning his post in December 2022 after former chair Joe Kelleher died that November.
Mormille, who was the organization’s longtime treasurer before being unanimously elected board chair, said it was Kelleher’s desire for him to fill the seat. Kelleher invited Mormille to join the organization during the new chamber’s early years and became his mentor.
Mormille told the Bronx Times he wanted to continue Kelleher’s efforts of growing the chamber, facilitate more programs and strengthen relationships with other Bronx organizations.
The chamber will host a golf tournament named after Kelleher at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point on June 20.
“We have grown to be as diverse as our borough, representing not only the rich and diverse fabric of our people, but also diversity in business sectors and size,” Brady said. “As we celebrate Bronx Week, we must acknowledge our progress in the Bronx, but also highlight that there is still comprehensive work to be done. The Bronx Chamber team is excited about our future and the energetic and innovative plans for our borough and NYC.”
Anthony Mormile replaces recently deceased Joe Kelleher as Bronx Chamber chair
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes