Merchant Development Program begins

At the press conference annoucing the formation of the Merchant Business Development program are (l-r) John Bonizio, Castle Hill Merchants Association president Joseph Coiro, Joe Regina, Bronx Chamber of Commerce CEO Lenny Caro, Bronx Chamber of Commerce chairman Joseph Kelleher, Councilman Jimmy Vacca, and Councilwoman Annabel Palma
Photo by Walter Pofeldt

A new business program promises to organize, educate and “liberate” merchant organizations throughout the borough.

The new Merchant Development Program run by the Bronx Chamber of Commerce is stepping in to fill the gap left by the dismantling of the Bronx Business Alliance due to grants being held up and the retirement of longtime director Margaret Arrighi.

The new group hopes to offer practical assistance to local merchant’s associations, said committee chairman John Bonizio.

Councilwoman Annabel Palma and Councilman Jimmy Vacca helped provide $95,000 in funding to keep merchants associations going strong and help many form business improvement districts.

Vacca and Palma joined Bronx Chamber chairman Joseph Kelleher, CEO Lenny Caro and others at Coiro, Wardi and Chintz, at 1206 Castle Hill Avenue, on Monday, June 4, to announce the funding.

Joseph Regina, involved in forming the Westchester Square Business Improvement District, as well as running the Morris Park Local Development Corporation, was tapped to direct the new program.

“With the support of the New York City Department of Small Business Services, I was happy to work with my colleague, Council Member Annabel Palma, in allocating funds that will allow the Bronx Chamber of Commerce to form the much anticipated Merchant Business Development Program,” said Vacca. “This new program will allow us to strengthen the businesses of the Bronx, organize and form new merchant’s associations, and hopefully take existing merchant associations and develop them into business improvement districts.”

A strong merchant corridor has a “ripple effect” on those living around it, said Palma.

“This initiative, which will start on Castle Hill Avenue, will give merchant’s associations across the east Bronx the tools they need to succeed and help our businesses thrive,” Palma said.

For many years the Bronx Business Alliance and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation provided this kind of “on the ground” assistance to merchants, Regina said. The new program will hopefully provide the technical support necessary for merchants associations to move from being volunteer organizations to self-sustaining business improvement districts, Bonizio said.

“This is a different function than the Chamber of Commerce has had recently,” Bonizio said. “Back in the old days, it was the chamber of commerce’s mission to organize businesses in the neighborhoods.”

Among the many functions the program will provide will be organization development, area marketing, program and event execution, fund raising and government advocacy. Merchants will also be given step-by-step assistance in forming a BID.

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