With not even a year under his belt as the new executive director of the White Plains Road Business Improvement District, Justin Lerner has helped lead the merchants through the pandemic.
He has made sure stores display signs for social distancing, people are wearing masks and has been the recipient of face masks from Councilman Mark Gjonaj and the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.
“My job is to be the eyes and ears of the tenants,” he said.
While the 30-year-old was raised in Long Island, his history with the founder of the BID, Howard Spring, goes back to his high school days.
Spring operated a property management company in Long Island where Lerner and his mother would often visit and pick Spring’s brain.
Eventually, this led him to the path of being in real estate and property management, which he has done for the past decade. Before Spring passed away in 2015, he asked Lerner if he was interested in learning how the BID worked.
Spring showed him the ropes and taught him how to engage with the community, help businesses improve and “take things to a different level.”
In the search for a full time director, his name came up because of his connection to Spring and he was named interim director in 2018. The role became permanent in October 2019.
When he took over, his focus was compliance, holding a certain amount of meetings every year and getting organized. But before he could really get his feet wet, COVID-19 arrived.
“In March when things were shut down, I observed a sense of pride in the community and how people carried themselves,” he recalled. “Our BID doesn’t let things get them down. I’ve learned they take care of each other.”
Looking ahead, he knows his real estate experience will help him but he is also young and has a lot on his plate.
As life hopefully starts to return to normalcy, Lerner said that he wants to bring more foot traffic to the businesses and hold promotions for the stores.
“Once you earn their trust and they know that you’re there for them, they really take care of you like you’re their family,” he said.
According to Lerner, the businesses in the BID are doing okay, but like many in the Bronx, did not receive the Payment Protection Program loan or help from the city. However, he does feel the vacancies in Manhattan will bring companies to the Bronx and other outer boroughs due to cheaper rent.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to help these stores stay open,” he said.