Neil A. Carousso produces and co-hosts WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight series with Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments featuring advice for business owners on survival, recovery and growth opportunities.

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  • Businesses Flock to Downtown Brooklyn as Growth Shifts from Manhattan to Outer Boroughs

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in how businesses operate and where they are located with the larger adoption of remote and hybrid work. One of the biggest economic shifts that has developed is the new growth of business in the boroughs outside of Manhattan.

    The decentralizing of Manhattan is a topic the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, has been following closely over the past two and a half years. The Partnership for New York City tells WCBS 880 that Brooklyn is now the fastest growing borough driven by new technology startups.

    “People really want to be in the center of things, but they also want the amenities of living in Brooklyn, which means access to the great residential communities,” said Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

    Myer noted Downtown Brooklyn is booming because after enjoying the convenience of remote work, people prefer to work in the same neighborhoods where they live. That has lifted local businesses.

    “It used to be dominated by the courts, the Board of Education and shopping on Fulton Street,” she said. “And now, It’s still shopping on Fulton Street, but it’s also shopping at City Point, it’s also a lot of residential and a lot of people are coming to Downtown Brooklyn to live because it’s so easy to get around.”

    Architectural and design firm FXCollaborative is erecting mixed-use buildings throughout Downtown Brooklyn that serve businesses and residents. It decided to move its own headquarters from Manhattan to One Willoughby Square, a mixed-use building FXCollaborative designed on Duffield Street.

    “We became one of the first tenants in the building and took three floors,” said FXCollaborative senior partner Dan Kaplan. “So many of our architects and professional staff and overall staff live very close to Downtown Brooklyn.”

    The architect’s philosophy for the post-pandemic city can be boiled down to what he calls a “15-minute community.”

    “That means anything that you care about whether it’s working, living, playing, learning, culture, civic infrastructure, green space, recreation is all within 15 convenient minutes – healthcare – 15 convenient minutes from where you live,” said Kaplan.

    FXCollaborative has designed office spaces that are open and airy.

    FXCollaborative is erecting mixed-use buildings throughout downtown Brooklyn that serve businesses and residents. Photo credit FXCollaborative

    “Everybody thirsts for and loves a connection to nature, to daylight, to greenery, to the changing of the sky, to the changing of the seasons, and this notion of a building that feels like it’s connected to its greater environment is really what drives us and drives our design.”

    Despite the growth in downtown Brooklyn as employees seek a hybrid work utopia, both Kaplan and Myer believe its proximity to Manhattan via the subway is beneficial because the island is still the engine that drives New York’s economy.

    “The reports of the death of the office buildings are greatly exaggerated,” said Kaplan.

    The FXCollaborative senior partner noted on the Small Business Spotlight that satellite offices were not widely utilized as predicted after 9/11.

    “What happened was that was great, except for people started saying, ‘Well that’s good, but I’m going to be in the center, right? I’m not going to be in one of those satellites.’ So, there is this idea of enterprises needing to be close to each other and have an established culture, themselves.”

    “That’s pretty obvious when people come here, they feel like it’s urban and it’s connected, but it’s also different from Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan. And I think that’s really to our advantage,” said Myer.

    The fastest growing industries in the business district, according to the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership leader, are technology and media.

    “We have companies like Gimlet Media, which are now part of the Spotify umbrella at 41 Flatbush,” Myer said. “Podcasting and a lot of tech and media is really comfortable not being in the center of things and being in Brooklyn. And that’s really been terrific to have companies with that kind of energy who are that forward thinking.”

    See more about the growth of downtown Brooklyn and the beautiful new mixed-use buildings on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • How Long Island’s Adventureland Successfully Markets to Moms

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — Amusement Parks have been on a roller coaster over the past two and a half years with COVID-19 halting rides. But, the business of fun has made a comeback this summer.

    “We have bounced back,” said Adventureland president and co-owner Steve Gentile. “We kept a lot of those changes and it’s for the better.”

    One of the biggest changes to the park’s business model, Gentile said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, was charging admission instead of a pay-as-you-go model as it did previously.

    “In the very beginning, it was a very big obstacle for us, but now they’re liking it more so because the people that are here inside the park want to be here,” he said.

    Gentile said parents have told him Adventureland feels safer because people aren’t wandering into the park only to “hang out.”

    Revenue has also increased this year compared to 2019.

    “We’re giving you a first-class product here as any amusement park does. And, we’re trying to give you a first-class product – which we feel we are – we’re giving you a safe business – which I feel we are – and a happy place to enjoy with your kids.”

    That experience is the selling point to mothers who make a majority of household purchasing decisions, according to several studies of consumer spending.

    “The mom is the one that’s making their decision where to spend their entertainment dollar,” said Gentile. “We need to convince mom that we are delivering a safe product here for them and that they can entertain their kids in a safe environment.”

    Adventureland opened in 1962. Gentile’s father Tony Gentile bought the park in 1979, which Steve took over when Tony died in 2013.

    “I get to work with me, my brother, my three kids, my brother-in-law, two cousins, people that have been working with us for over 20 to 25, 30 years. I say sometimes how lucky we are that we can have such a family unit in the park.”

    Being surrounded by family during the worst of the pandemic sustained Gentile’s spirits.

    “My brother was speaking with somebody the other day about a recession and he nailed it on the head: ‘If we can get through a pandemic with not being open, I think Adventureland will handle a recession,” he said.

    The amusement park owner told WCBS 880 that children’s “happy screams” emanating from the rides are an indication that he’s doing his job right.

    “Screams, that tells us that we are succeeding in what we’re doing,” said Gentile. “That’s wonderful stuff that you hear kids screaming in our business that they’re having fun.”

    Watch the full interview with Adventureland owner Steve Gentile on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Five Dimes Brewery Launches ‘BYOF’ to Support Surrounding NJ Businesses

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    WESTWOOD, N.J. (WCBS 880) — Chris Alepa had the idea seven years ago to open a craft brewery at the Westwood, New Jersey, location that was home to the family-owned L.N. Grand 5 & 10 Cent Store for 60 years. That became a reality in April, and Five Dimes Brewery’s early success is exceeding Alepa’s wildest dreams.

    “When we finally opened the doors, it was a rush to get in,” he said. “It was a good, good feeling.”

    On the 250th Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank, Alepa explained to WCBS 880 that his goal was to connect neighboring businesses in Westwood and communities in surrounding towns.

    “You’re seeing the restaurant next door and the one around the corner, and they’re all having some of the best business they ever had. Even the Irish pub that first might have thought it was a competition thing has been doing fantastic. It’s only helped their business.”

    Five Dimes Brewery has a “BYOF” policy or “bring your own food,” which the owner sees is helping local eateries.

    “We had people from Greenwood Lake the other day, we had people coming from Rockland County, we had a couple guys coming from Brooklyn. So people are coming from all the different areas now. They want to check the place out. And I think that’s been great for the whole community, putting Westwood on the map and opening the door to see what else the town has to offer.”

    Alepa ran into an unusual problem when he opened his craft brewery to such high demand: it ran out of beer.

    “We could not find kegs anywhere in America,” he said.

    “Once we make our beer, we need to move it out of the tanks, into the kegs, and then, make more so we have a good supply. Well, we didn’t have that ability. All the kegs we would try to get, we couldn’t get. We finally found them in Canada, they got shipped to us, they got held up at U.S. Customs for 30 days,” Alepa explained.

    Five Dimes Brewery temporarily closed for several days to rebuild their keg supply. They also hired more workers.

    The craft brewery has a rooftop deck where they host private events. They also host tours where you can watch the brewing process in-house.

    Home-brewing became widely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic and it has long been a hobby of the founder.

    “I’m a chiropractor by training,” said Alepa. “I still do that, but this has been a passion. I’ve been home-brewing and I always thought this would be awesome for the community.”

    The entrepreneur also operates Select Wellness, LLC a separate chiropractic, physical therapy and acupuncture practice with locations in Westwood and Fair Lawn. But, he is scaling back to follow his passion of running Five Dimes Brewery.

    The company is now canning its popular IPAs, lagers and pilsners for retail.

    See what makes Five Dimes Brewery a hit on the 250th Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Show Me the Money! Acclaimed Actor’s Advice for Making Better Business Presentations

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — There are clear parallels between business presentations and acting on the big screen and that starts with knowing your audience.

    “Acting and improvisation and storytelling are really great platforms for helping people in lots of businesses and lots of situations. And one of the ways that principally helps people is by making the activity of selling or presenting a human activity, which is what performance really is all about,” said award-winning Broadway and television actor Adam Grupper on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    The “Law & Order” and “Homeland” actor said, too often, people make the mistake of reciting a speech without taking cues from the audience.

    “We forget that it’s a two-way street that we want to connect with our partners, we want to connect with the people that we’re talking with, which means that we have to be receptive to what’s coming from them,” said Grupper.

    Outside of show business, he works with corporate clients to help them improve their performances in the boardroom and overcome anxiety when delivering a presentation or sales pitch.

    “Nervousness and stage fright has to do with when your focus is directed internally, you start thinking, ‘what am I doing?’ And when you start doing that, then your internal voice that starts to be self-critical kicks into gear,” said Grupper. “The trick to getting out of stage fright is always to push your energy outward. It means that you have to be attentive to your partner – ‘What are they doing?’ not ‘what am I doing?'”

    The “Two Weeks Notice” lawyer told WCBS 880 that the most common question he’s asked by presenters is “What do I do with my hands?” Grupper advises businesspeople to not be preoccupied with their own body language. Rather, he said, they should focus on the information that they are conveying.

    “Remember that what you have to convey is important, that what you have to convey is something that will be a benefit to your audience. It’s not just a self-serving thing. What you’re doing is for your mutual benefit and it’ll be even more to your mutual benefit, if you are prepared to take what somebody gives you and then incorporate that,” Grupper said.

    He noted sometimes presenters need to be prepared to go off-script and improvise to connect with their audiences.

    Grupper, who recently played “The Wizard” in “Wicked” on Broadway, recommends professionals be able to succinctly explain what they do and why it’s important. Additionally, he said they need to be prepared to make professional connections in any situation, not just networking events.

    See how to make a great sales presentation and connect with an audience on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Trailblazing Home Inspector Explains What to Look Out for When Buying a House in Red-Hot Real Estate Market

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Home inspections are one of the most important steps in buying a house.

    Jacqueline Gathers familiarized herself with common plumbing and heating issues in her 30 years working for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). When her husband died of cancer in 2017, she took over the franchise for Pillar to Post, which he had purchased a year earlier.

    “I was very, very nervous because the home inspection industry is a white male-dominated industry. So, I had concerns about how I would get business,” she said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by Dime Community Bank.

    Gathers became the city’s first licensed Black female home inspector.

    “Once I started and I kept at it and I’m really good at what I do, I know what I’m talking about, people just kind of disregarded the fact that I was a female and an African American, and they started to give me business based on my expertise,” said Gathers.

    She began pitching her services to realtors by going door-to-door to introduce herself and offering free inspections.

    “I know all the realtors had a guy that they used, but I just wanted them to give me an opportunity to do business with me.”

    Gathers would produce home inspection reports within the same day, which she called a “game changer” for her business.

    She told WCBS 880 she and her three full-time home inspectors are busy, sometimes, with multiple inspections per client because cash buyers are gobbling up homes so quickly. She says people are eager to buy in New York City and stresses the value of home inspections for co-ops and condos even in new buildings.

    “What we look for in co-ops and condos is moisture in places that’s not visible to the eye,” said Gathers. “We check the outlets, particularly the kitchen and bathrooms, to make sure they’re properly GFI so if water gets in them, it won’t spark and cause a fire.”

    Foundation issues are the primary reason why clients may walk away from a deal, but Gathers said that only happens in about one percent of cases at Pillar to Post.

    “When we look at houses, we always like to let our buyers know that the cosmetic stuff we’re not concerned about. It’s the main arteries of the house like the roof, the foundation, the electrical, the plumbing, the heating and cooling systems – those are issues that will cost you money down the road and that’s what we really kind of focus on.”

    See more home buying tips on the Small Business Spotlight video above.

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