Silver says L.E.S. business still hurting from 9/11

By Albert Amateau

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver assured members of the Lower East Side Business Improvement District last week of his commitment to help small businesses of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy weather the current recession.

Silver, a lifelong Lower East Side resident, was the keynote speaker at the 16th annual meeting of the Lower East Side BID on Jan. 29.

“Make no mistake, this is a recession the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life,” Silver said, noting that the latest Wall St. crash struck while the area was still trying to recover from the World Trade Center attack.

“People who used to walk from their jobs in the Financial District to Chinatown and Orchard St. and patronized the stores during their lunchtimes were driven out by the Sept. 11 attack,” Silver said. “Those customers are not back yet.”

He said that the city and the state must honor their commitment to rebuild the district even though mistakes have been made. The task, he added, is not simple.

“There is nothing you can learn from the Wharton School of Business about how to deal with a massive terrorist attack,” he remarked.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that state and local governments have limited options.

“We will have to do more with less. We really have no alternative,” he said.

To survive, Lower East Side merchants “need to make our community the place for customers to get the biggest bang for the buck,” Silver said.

He said that small businesses create the most jobs and are an important part of the district’s quality of life.

“I’ve lived here my entire life,” he said. “I never wore an article of clothing that didn’t come from this district until I was 40. I think this is the greatest place to live and raise children, and I hope that 50 years from now, there will still be Silvers in the neighborhood. I believe we can overcome our difficulties,” he said.

Silver, who was instrumental in securing the first New York State grant to the Lower East Side BID in 1992, also provided the funding for the BID’s “Green Machine” street-cleaning vehicle and for the current “Go East” marketing campaign.

“He has been the champion of the neighborhood,” said Roberto Ragone, the BID’s executive director.

State Senator Daniel Squadron also attended the meeting and remarked that his first date with his fiancée was at the BID’s Pickle Day.

Mark Miller, president of the BID, reported on improvements in the district last year. A new program awards up to $425 to BID merchants who install security-camera systems providing street surveillance outside their buildings. Property owners with corner or through lots may be awarded an extra $250 for installing cameras at additional entrances or exits.

As a counterpart to the BID’s seventh annual Pickle Day in September of last year, the BID held its inaugural New York City Apple Day in October.