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Op Ed Sunday: Small Town in the Big City

Lou Lodati, 1908-1996, co-founder of Lowery’s Wine & Liquors, was the second Sunnyside Chamber president

By Rigoberto Cardoso and Patricia Dorfman

The inner workings of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce might seem irrelevant to some, but the organization’s health is more important to our future than one might think. The Chamber’s long-time slogan, “A small town in the big city” aptly suggests that we all are dependent upon each other in more ways than just business.

The organization was built mid-century by a group of people with energy and altruism, and has since then been the center of public life.

The leaders made a lot of money here and spent a lot of money here. They played hard in the way that trusted associates do (often in a politically incorrect “ratpack” fashion). But they also helped build parks, schools, the post office, a bank, parking under the elevated train line—as well as give to the needy. They stuck together.

Sunnyside is on the brink of enormous change and we can all sense it. It feels as though powerful and wealthy people have taken a look at Sunnyside and decided to carve it up like waffles. We need to keep a voice of our own or we will be overwhelmed by the clamor of the interests of commercial real estate brokers, big business and long-term landowners along our rezoned town center. Long-term quality of life for residents is at stake.

Of course, property owners are entitled to make their profits as well as brokers and developers. A chamber is not anti-commerce.

But residents need a varied commercial landscape, not just stores which can afford giant rents. Small businesses make Sunnyside charming and need a place and chance to flourish. Professionals and merchants worry they will be displaced. Residents worry they will not be able to afford to live here. The already begun building turnovers and coming rebuilding will be easier for locals if done more in plain sight.

We need an independent group not connected to the city, expressly concerned with small business. The BID (AKA Sunnyside Shines) was created by Chamber members and does a great job at its official four-fold mission: holiday lights, security, cleanliness and promotion. But the BID cannot speak for residents and local businesses as well as we can for ourselves. The BID is a property owners organization, designed to keep up property values. Only two out of the 17 BID board members are small business owners as per its proscribed make-up. There is also just one resident board member permitted, as per its make-up.

Even if it wanted to advocate strongly on a local specific topic, our BID would be constrained by the city, which regulate all BIDs. You or we cannot join the BID. Furthermore, it serves a specific location. The Chamber is for the wider area, and invites all, from residents to small business owners.

Want a say in what is happening? Join the chamber as an individual. The monthly lunch is a regular public forum in a friendly setting. Bring your business cards and promote, or bring your initiative and get something started. Have an idea to help yourself or others? The chamber is a good place to start. No board member or officer is paid, but many find getting involved opens up business opportunities.

Last month, a variety of local business owners expressed similar wish lists:

1) Hold monthly meetings at different venues so as to showcase more businesses, and sometimes in the evenings. Of course, the excellent Dazies will be one of the places to be showcased, too.

2) Put the focus on small business and local concerns.

3) Members can be from anywhere and all are welcome but specify that officers who often speak for all must have an office here or live here.

4) Invite speakers or officials to speak on topics which entertain or directly relate to small business needs — quarterly business card exchanges, topics such as social networking, search engine optimization, press release writing, local history, subjects such as new health care rules for business.

5)  Board outreach to more diverse business leadership.

6)  Rehire Luke Adams when possible, repost his historical photos and schedule outings.

7) Among events suggested were golf outings, and bus trips.

As early chamber members knew, recreational events held by the chamber have a serious component, not just to raise funds. Those who can find some common ground and have fun, despite different backgrounds, are more likely to do business with each other and even be happier and healthier. More than ever, we need a place to speak freely on a local level. As our area grows and inevitably changes, we can unite to create prosperity, work together for the common good, and keep our small town in the big city.

(Cardoso has owned and run Pronto Car Service for 20 years and has served as Treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce for seven years. He is originally from Ecuador. Dorfman is a local artist and designer, a former VP of the Chamber but did not run for a seat.)

email the author: [email protected]

29 Comments

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Melissa

This has been a great discussion and I agree with what JOR, DBO and MTM, among others, have contributed to it. I was a Chamber member for the first two years I was in business here. I even got to present at the luncheon once or twice!

My company’s name was misspelled on the communications announcing my talk and Luke Adams took it upon himself to add some language that embarrassed me among my co-presenters for the day: they were all from print media and the flyer made it sound like I disdained them because I work more in digital. Really, a speaker should have a chance to review the introductory paragraph of the announcements — that has nothing to do with tech abilities or one’s age.

Anyway, there was a real hunger among people at the luncheon for more information about some of these marketing technologies. I offered on more than one occasion to do presentations or help coordinate workshops for local business owners who wanted to learn more. This helps me, because I might gain a client or two from among the participants; and it helps the business owners who might not be aware of or understand all the ways they can promote their businesses.

Even those business owners who are already using mailing list software like MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc., can use some “best practices” guidance on how to engage with their customers via email. Getting together to share stories about what works, what doesn’t, etc., would go so much further to help our businesses than what I witnessed in my two years with the Chamber.

Anyone interested in helping me organize a MeetUp please contact me directly.

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Meet the Mutts

Thanks JOR.

Until the Chamber shapes up and starts using its finanial resources wisely, it’s going to remain a ‘friends club’. Doing business with eachother is only a small piece of the puzzle. Helping businesses attract customers/clients from outside Sunnyside should be the major piece.

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JOR

@Mutts – all great points! The chamber folks should be saying “we want this guy or gal to be the president”.

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Meet the Mutts

#4… Paying $20 for a glorified lunch to listen to officials talk about things that have nothing to do with growing my business is a waste of money. Speakers should be Chamber members and local business owners. 3 officials a year would still be pushing it.

#5… Board outreach? Isn’t the board 20+ now for an organization of less than 60 members? International banks have boards of 5.

#6… This will just continue the trend of awful marketing efforts. Rather than send out blind-copied emails that go from Rigo to Luke, use something more effective like Constant Contact or MailChimp. Get with the program and brand the Chamber. The website looks great compared to the old one, but your marketing is prehistoric. Market yourselves as a professional organization and you’ll start to see some recognition. Pay someone with more experience to run email marketing and pay someone with more experience to run the website. Surely that $300/week can go towards better marketing. This is no knock on Luke. He’s a great person, but you just can’t progress with such an outdated marketing system in place.

#7… How are these trips going to help ME as a business owner in Sunnyside? More importantly, since so much of Sunnyside’s money is spent in other boroughs (more specifically, Manhattan), how is a golf outing or a bus trip going to net me business from outside of Sunnyside? My business brings in money from NYC, not a golf course, Atlantic City, or Amish country. Stick to sponsoring workshops and seminars, and running local events if you’re so interested in helping local businesses.

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Dawn O'Day

Let’s take up a collection and offer it as a reward to anyone who takes on the job of making peace between the old Sunnyside and the newcomers. The Post reflects just a sliver of the enmity growing between the two factions. The broken hearts and venemous battles here are but a just a scene in an enormous battle taking place all over the United States. Gentrifiers are killing off established communities everywhere. No one is covering it as it should be covered–as class warfare–because real-estate pays for all the advertising it takes to make reporting profitable.

Its a sick, sick cycle.

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Anonymous

@Disgruntled Business Owner – I usually get paid a lot of money consulting on business issues, but how about this: Organization A and Organization B split the take down the middle? Anyway, I now understand why the event went on hiatus for a year.

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Disengaged Business Owner

@JOR, you’re right, but even if the BID did not exist the CoC would not be in any better position to affect change.

I *think* the bad blood stems from a dispute over the profits of a Taste of Sunnyside event a few years back. Can you believe? They were fighting over something like $650.

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JOR

First, thank you Sunnyside Post for providing a venue for discussion of important community issues. Sunnyside may be better served if the above Op Ed piece were entitled and directed to “Why are the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and the BID at loggerheads?” Professional jealousies? One organization actually making visible changes in the community and the other sitting in a room listening to speeches? They are getting credit and accolades in the community and we are not? Sexual orientation politics, which unfortunately is a subtext of a lot of what is going on around here?

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jimmy the juice

honestly i am tired of all the bickering and blaming, the businesses in sunnyside are pretty lame while neighborhoods around us are taking off. I just took a walk down Franklin St in Greenpoint, what a turnaround for recently dead street.

its the same old thing in sunnyside, an aging business closes and in its place is a 99 cent (and up) store or a restaurant that closes within 6 months. I think we should wipe the slate clean of the same old people running things.
Honestly, to hear all of you long time Sunnysiders incl Mr Adams and D Morehead. Im just getting tired of all this petty garbage while sunnyside struggles to have a real thriving business sector thats not under constant threat of collapse.

I happen to live near to C town on greenpoint which within 5 months went from C Town to Seans C Town to Now Steves C-Town. What the hell is it with this place? Now we got a liquor store across the street looking like its out of Taxi Driver 1973 with a light show capable of giving seizures to the elderly

We have had some pretty poor leadership for several years here, I am tired of you all. Time for some new blood!! Who’s the team that revamped Franklin St in Greenpoint, bring em here.

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Luke Adams

I see some very cruel and untrue things said above and I would like to defend myself.

The “Statesman” and a lot of us know who that is. Statesman has made some un-statesmanly comments! He seems to now commenting under other names, I think Sunnyside is blooming and Transplant Sunnysider and ³Macdrop.
With reference to criticizing me that I’m bad speller, he is correct!
But I do know how to make a Website and I did the first merchant site in
1993 which was on top of the search engines for years. So was the next one Pat did. The blogs in the third chamber site now are ones I wrote. If you look, you can see that I have learned to use the spell-check!
There was no Bus. Card Exchange in a year and a half with the former president. After I was let go, two board members approved my setting one up and charging $7 to go back to the chamber not me!! I was told the chamber needed money. When another board member complained, we immediately made it FREE the same day and resent the invitation to all the same people. We were accused also of using the chamber name with “Friends of Sunnyside Chamber² so we changed it to ³Friends of Business.²
We were trying to help, not hurt. No one who came thought it was the Chamber sponsoring it. There were no negative people there, just people wanting to get more business. Why try and stop it? Show up and help!
Everyone was invited. It was not against anyone. It was for business! We were happy to have over 50 people show up, and four people there were former Chamber of Commerce presidents, so we knew that they understood it was a good thing. They wanted to show support for the small business. But mainly it was good because local people need to meet each other and network!
We planned another Bus. Card Exchange and Opera Night, which is always a success but we cancelled right away when we found out the first one was controversial with the previous leaders (spell-check, thank you). I was not being paid and no one helping was paid.
The blooming sounds good but I there is a pretty good chance it is a group started by the BID to make other groups look bad, I am sorry to say.
When I went to the site, there are no names and the phone number is not listed. The BID is sending out a promotion for it under its name. Who is it?
If you really want to get something done here, put your name out there and we will all show up and help! If you are real, hearts are big here and you will find support for such a good thing.
I was a supporter of the BID for many years and was with the Chamber during its creation. I am not against the BID! I spoke in favor of it to great groups like the United Forties to get support. The BID can really help an area, This one can also if they stop trying to kill the chamber. The chamber is not a threat! We just want small business to do well and to be able to join together to help each other. Let the BID take care of the landlords and the big picture. Why try and stop a local business effort??
The two organizations are not the same. Small business needs help!
I was paid $300 a week, not $60,000! Now I am still working as a volunteer for free and will keep doing it as long as I can. I love the chamber. Some people cannot understand other people doing something for love not for power or prestige. The NYC Small Business Admin. reads this blog I hear. Please ask your people here to stop making mean comments and help us!
Pat and I have one big thing in common we say what we think! Maybe that why we are friends. Please forgive me for saying what I think over the years. It is too late to stop. People who won¹t put their names and don¹t know what they are talking about are not worth it and I know I should ignore them.
It¹s no secret that I love Sunnyside and its people. Yes I have been blessed with friends. I have to accept some enemies!
We are not trying to be leaders. I know Pat is not trying to hurt anyone. She is helping Rigo because she believes in him and that he is the future of small business. I know that as of today 52 small merchants have signed to support Rigo and his plan which is based on what small merchants asked him for. Only one big establishment today did not sign for him because they do not understand he is not against, he is for! Rigo and his team are already planning good things, not posting comments here! I know everyone will be invited to the first public lunch meeting in May and you can see for yourself. Come hungry!

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Dorothy Morehead

@ Statesman The business card exchanges have always been free to members. There was never any admission fee mentioned for the program at Quaint. It was hosted by the owner with wine donated. It was organized basically because the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce hadn’t done any of these types of events in a long while. It was not promoted as a Chamber event.

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Mary Caulfield

My involvement with the organization Pat Dorfman founded with help from many of her friends and associates, including Luke Adams, has helped me immeasurably. She introduced me to people who have been quietly doing good in Sunnyside for decades. Mature, seasoned, successful and creative, with a comprehensive vision for incorporating the current and future Sunnysides, she boosts my spirit, encourages dreams, grounds them in reality and does it all with a great sense of humor and collegiality. She gathers people of good heart and beneficent intent and helps them work together for a common local vision. I’m delighted to know her.

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Sunnyside First

All Pat Dorfman and Luke Adams do is create trouble. They make life difficult for the BID and virtually every other organization…it’s either their way or the highway. They are not town leaders but town crazy-makers.

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Anonymous

@MicDrop

Agreed! It’s as if the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce has lost it and they’re leaving longtime residents helpless.

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Celtic Bark

A lot of what effects us locally is happening nationally and globally so there’s only so much any CoC or BID can do about it but their efforts are worthwhile. I especially like the free events that are put on such as the concerts under the arch, the Thalia Theatre’s free performances in Noonan Park, the various parades, concerts held in local churches, the themed pub crawls etc. Those are the things that make the neighborhood feel like a small town.

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Statesman

Neither Pat Dorfman nor Luke Adams is a member of the Chamber. But they held a business card exchange at a local restaurant and told the owner that it was for the Chamber, even though the Chamber did not authorize it. They were going to charge money at the door, until someone told them that would be fraud. They held the event anyway and those who came thought it was a Chamber sponsored event. Dishonest to say the least.

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Disengaged Business Owner

LOL, I’m sure Patricia and Rigo are well-intentioned, but this is a joke, right? I especially like #6, rehire Luke Adams when possible. That will do wonders for Sunnyside businesses.

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MicDrop

The Sunnyside Chamber, which looks nothing like the community (north of Skillman Ave.) does nothing to affect change for the residents and businesses of Sunnyside.

If the Chamber was really serious about being an organization dedicated to protecting Sunnyside from gentrification, over-development, and resurrecting a healthy small-business community, it wouldn’t waste money on employees who aren’t computer-savvy or couldn’t compete in an open hiring process.

I am sorry, this is just nonsense.

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Sunnysideisblooming

No bus trips, speakers or agendas. Just looking to do good in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is changing and probably in a way that most of us won’t like. But at least we can try to make Sunnyside more live able.

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Sunnysideisblooming

Hey Transplant Woodsider- go to sunnysideisblooming.com. Flyers were put up on Queens Blvd. this weekend and event on May 10 in calendar of BID, Woodside Herald and Sunnyside Post.

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Native

No one here is self-serving. And every organization has its place, I’m just gal residents are taking an active role. Coordination of efforts also helps. The community board is a great place for information, so is JVB’s office. The Lion’s club, Sunnyside Shines, Sunnyside is Blooming all do good work.

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Transplant Woodsider

Hey Sunnyside is Blooming…how are you promoting your event and organization? Where can I get more info?

And it’s a combination of things here…Chamber of Commerce has an important place in an area’s ecosystem. I am not homegrown here but I’ve seen the benefits of such organizations in Pennsylvania towns. Takes a village…
Love Woodside/Sunnyside and living/spending here.

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Sunnysideisblooming

Joining the chamber of commerce is not the answer. The average person is not going to do that. That is a self serving idea. I have started a grass roots group called Sunnyside Is Blooming. It is a grass roots organization. I am looking to get average people involved and show them they can affect change. Join my group and let’s try and make a difference in Sunnyside. I have an event on May 10 to cleanup areas in the neighborhood and educate people on the sanitation rules. More practical than sitting in a room with some speaker with no relevance to my life.

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PAt

The local Chamber of Commerce in Sunnyside has always been a strong group and worked hard for the people of Sunnyside ..

…I grew up in 46th St and 48th Ave, which many think of as Sunnyside but it is actually Woodside. We always got the benefits of the hard work and dedication of the Luke Adams, Lily Gavin, Joe Sabba, etc and the people who came behind them.

Let’s keep this area Sunnyside/Woodside’s small town feeling. Not too many of them left, not good ones anyway ..

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Native

Finally, someone who wants to hear what people who live here have to say about our future! Thank you. The plain spoken honesty has the ring of truth missing from so many “releases” by business leaders et. al. It is a call those who want to make this a great place to live, not just a great place to make money, can answer.

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