Just in time for the holidays, NYC will let small businesses set up for outdoor shopping

Posted On Wed, October 28, 2020 By

Posted On Wed, October 28, 2020 By In City Living, Policy

Photo by ozgecan on Flickr

Starting Friday, 40,000 of New York City’s small businesses will be able to temporarily use outdoor space in front of their store to sell goods, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday. Modeled after the city’s successful Open Restaurants initiative, “Open Storefronts” will let businesses with ground floor space set up on sidewalks, on streets that are closed to cars as part of the Open Streets program, or a combination of both. The program, which the city hopes will encourage local holiday shopping, will run from October 30 to December 31.


Courtesy of DOT

“Rebuilding a fairer, better New York City means maximizing use of our outdoor space, helping businesses keep their employees, and giving New Yorkers more reasons than ever to shop local and enjoy their communities. Open Storefronts does all three,” de Blasio said. “This program builds on the successful legacy of our Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs, and I look forward to finding more ways than ever to reimagine our urban landscape.”

Any ground floor small business “predominately involved in the sale of goods or services” can participate in the program, which could involve clothing and equipment stores, retail food stores, personal care, and even repair stores and dry-cleaning.

The city’s Department of Transportation released guidance with several criteria for stores to follow. On sidewalks, stores must place objects as close to the business as possible, leave an 8-foot clear path for pedestrians, and not block any fire hydrants, bus stops, or entry and exit doors. Businesses that operate on existing open streets can conduct activities on the street for the duration of the street closure but must leave an emergency lane of 15 feet.

Collapsible tents and umbrellas with a weighted base are allowed, but they must have at least two sides open. All outdoor objects must be removed by the business and brought inside when it closes. Other than barriers for open street storefronts, no permanent structures can be used.

New York City’s small businesses are struggling, with thousands now permanently closed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March. According to a report released this summer by the Partnership for New York City, as many as one-third of the city’s 230,000 small businesses may not reopen when the pandemic subsides.

The Open Storefronts program comes ahead of the holiday shopping season, the busiest time of the year for most small businesses. According to the commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, Jonnel Dorris, 70 percent of sales for these businesses come from the holiday season.

Many small business groups have been calling for a similar open storefronts program since June when outdoor dining first launched. The NYC Bid Association, which represents 76 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) citywide, asked the mayor in September to let retail businesses use outdoor public space ahead of the holiday season.

“If the City does not act quickly, we risk additional permanent closures of small business, particularly in the outer boroughs, including significant percentages of MWBE and immigrant-owned businesses,” the Association wrote to the mayor and the City Council in a letter last month. “We have only a few more weeks before winter hits to roll-out and ramp-up this program in time for the holiday shopping season, so there is no time to spare.”

Although delayed, the new program could serve as a lifeline for those businesses struggling amid COVID-19. James Mettham, the executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, told 6sqft in a statement: “We applaud the City for building on the success of outdoor dining and developing a similar plan to facilitate outdoor shopping. The use of public space for retail is critical for the 95 stores in Flatiron and NoMad that have reopened or never closed because they were deemed essential.”

“The Flatiron Partnership is ready to work with the City and our neighborhood retailers to implement this program, and we urge the City to continue developing innovative, creative, and responsible uses for the public realm during this pandemic and beyond.”

Similar to the open restaurants and open streets programs, the city is allowing businesses to self-certify that they meet all requirements. After submitting an application, businesses will receive authorization from the city via email. More information on the program can be found here.

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