Businesses see ‘lines around the block’ amid pandemic: 86th Street BID director

A line of people wait to get inside Century 21 on 86th Street in Bay Ridge before they open at 10 a.m. on Sept. 22.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

As the city continues to reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Brooklyn Paper sat down for an exclusive interview with Patrick Condren, the executive director of the 86th Street Business Improvement District, to discuss the economic health of Bay Ridge’s bustling commercial thoroughfare.

Brooklyn Paper: How long has the 86th Street Business Improvement District been around? 

Patrick Condren: We started in October 2001 after about a five-year ramp-up. It was originally back 30 years ago, 40 years ago when there were a lot of small mom-and-pops. One of the mom-and-pops was Century 21 — then we started getting more nationals on the street, little by little over the years. 

BP: What businesses comprise the 86th Street Business Improvement District? 

PC: We now have 131 properties with about 110 property owners — with about 160 to 165 stores, it varies. It is a very condensed spot, highly concentrated with the nationals. We have Victoria Secret, TJ Maxx, Century 21, GAP, Banana Republic. We have 33 stores that serve food, those kinds of stores — if you want to call it that — serve everything. We have Chipotle, McDonald’s, Burger King, we’ve got all the nationals between the pizza stores and Stewart’s. 

It’s a fascinating shopping center located by the N and the R train, where people get off and get on a bus and go over to Staten Island and vice-versa. From Staten Island, they come here get on a train and go to Manhattan. We are very much a terminus area, just like Fordham Road in the Bronx, Jamaica in Queens, Atlantic Avenue and Atlantic Yards.

BP: How will the business be impacted by the upcoming closure of Century 21

PC: We are optimists here. We thank Century 21 for investing in 86th Street BID for 6o years and being a major, major player in this district and creating what we think is a high-traffic shopping zone. There is obviously going to be some sort of immediate impact on some level but we believe strongly and hope that the long-term and the short-term will blend and people will still come here. People are getting on and off the trains all the time, half a million people live within walking distance of 86th Street, so it has always been a major shopping district. 

BP: What would you like to see fill the space? 

PC: Anything and everything that is a quality store because 86th Street is a quality shopping district. 

BP: What does the 86th Street BID do? How is it funded? 

PC: The mission is to promote the general welfare of the people living in, working in and visiting our neighborhood. It is a not-for-profit, an active member of the New York City BID Association for many, many years. There are over 75 BIDs in New York City now and we report with and are on a contract with the Small Business Services unit of the City of New York. 

We have an assessment of the property owners that contribute monies every year for the purposes of sanitation and maintenance, for the purposes of marketing and promotion, for the purposes of putting in benches, banners and trees on the streets to make it look good. It is an improvement to the area, and most importantly, it is an investment in their location so the development of these businesses can continue. 

The budget for the first 15 years was $210,000 a year. In 2014 and 2015, it became $290,000 a year and that money gets plowed back into those services for the stakeholders which include the property and business owners in addition to the shoppers and the residents, although we don’t have that many residents on our stretch. 

We are a very active group of property owners and store owners. We stay on top of this and we get a lot of bang for the buck. We put up the best Christmas lights and holiday lights in town, we think. We get Santa Claus out there. It’s all about shopping 86th Street. We want to promote our district. That’s what we do. We keep it simple and we keep the streets clean. Although during COVID we had to pull back, for most of the last 20 years it’s been seven days a week — and it still is seven days a week. Constant cleaning 365 days a year, besides Christmas and Thanksgiving. 

BP: How have businesses in the district been impacted by COVID-19?

PC: We have lost a bunch with COVID. We have 160 store locations, give or take if people want to change the plot. We are taking a little bit of a hit but not compared to some places, not much. We’ve had a little bit of a fall off of about a dozen stores which is unusual for us. We usually lose about four or five. 

But since we reopened, we got the crowds back immediately. And during the time we were closed, the essential stores were open. The mobile stores, medical, and the food places were all open and people were coming and going on their way to work. [There weren’t as many big] crowds in March or early to mid-April. But in May and June, things started coming back quickly. 

BP: What are some of the unique struggles and challenges businesses within the district are experiencing because of COVID?

PC: I am pleased to advise that 86th Street is a busy place. The good news is that a majority of the stores are open. I am pleased to say that people are coming and going off the transportation hub between Staten Island and Brooklyn is a very busy place. We are also pleased to say that a majority of the stores have, when they reopened, COVID plans in place and we have lines around the block at Victoria’s Secret, TJ Maxx and Century 21 for people to get in to shop.

The biggest problem we had on the streets was garbage because with 33 places selling food and lots of people coming and going for the reopening, we didn’t have enough garbage cans for all the stuff. People weren’t allowed to eat inside. 

BP: What are some of the projects the BID does throughout the year? 

PC: We do not do festivals, we do not do parades. We are a shopping district, similar to a shopping mall … and we do not host special events outside some of the holiday promotions. We do support some local events for the neighborhood and the community for the Bay Ridge Community Council, for children of the schools with Halloween walks and Halloween paintings. We do not have any festivals or anything like that because we are a major thoroughfare to the Verrazano Bridge with a major avenue in the middle. Our stores are all concentrated on two and a half blocks. 

BP: Who shops on 86th Street? 

PC: Our shoppers include everybody in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Staten Island and North Jersey. We have everybody that used to be here still come back. We have everybody getting on and off the subway and getting on and off the buses to Staten Island. So we have good activity. Is it like it used to be? No. It is a bit of a slide? Yes, but it’s not evident compared to some places.