Proposal: Hypothesis Prototypes
After talking with local business owners and residents in NYC, particularly in my neighborhood, the West Village, to understand the consequences of gentrification and how it affects local businesses, I concluded that it is almost impossible for local businesses to thrive due to high rents and sales taxes because their profit margins are very low. When profit margins are low and an emergency happens, such as a natural disaster, an expensive appliance that breaks, a lawsuit, or a penalty from breaking a city regulation, which by the way is also a big headache because the paperwork is very complex, a business can fail very quickly.
Problem 1: Lack of community engagement
I also discovered that another reason for the failure of local small businesses is when there is a lack of local community engagement. And this can happen in many forms in a gentrified neighborhood:
- There is a tension between old and new residents and business owners. The old residents and owners feel like the new people are taking away their space, and the new people don’t feel welcomed and prefer to shop from the new businesses.
- In a survey that I conducted that about 80 participants answered, I discovered that New Yorkers, either who was born or has been living here for more than 10 years tend to shop more locally, it is part of their culture and they support their local businesses. They do have an understanding of gentrification and truly care about supporting their local places.
- Most people that are here for a short period of time, either students or tourists don’t really care. They don’t pay attention if a restaurant is a chain or if is local.
- This lack of engagement also affects how people engage with their neighbors. Most people that are just passing by New York don’t really talk to their neighbors nor participate in local events, while New Yorkers tend to engage more.
I believe that if old and new local businesses owners and residents of a neighborhood get together to share and listen to their problems they will be more likely to do collaborations that can benefit their businesses.
From talking with business owners, I discovered that doing collaborations have helped their businesses thrive. In these collaborations, businesses usually:
- Recommend each other
- Create a discount program
- Organize an event that brings several local businesses together and gets exposure to new customers, such as charity events, block parties, and food street fairs.
- Decorate their block or street to bring more customers.
I heard from Helena, owner of Baba’s Pierogies located at Gowanus, Brooklyn, that being invited to do a collaboration with Ample Hills ice cream, another local store that started in Brooklyn and that is very successful with multiple locations in the city, for a charity event has brought more business to their store.
In addition, I believe if residents are aware of local businesses’ problems, they will support them by listening and giving advice, or simply by going more often to this business and referring it to their friends.
To test hypothesis 1, I already tested a co-design workshop, in which I got three West Village local business owners that didn’t know each other nor have been to their places before, together to share their challenges and brainstorm their ideas together. I think this meeting was successful, two of them walked out of this meeting, planning to do a collaboration together and they all told me they would recommend each other places afterward. I will send them a survey to ask if these actionable steps actually happened.
I also want to create another group meeting to see if other local businesses are interested in joining. It was very difficult to do outreach in my first attempt, and I couldn’t get any locals to come to the event. For this new tentative, I will invite only 4–5 locals and business owners. I will share a post in the Next Door app, to discover if people are interested in doing this and reach out to the people I already interviewed.
People would help businesses they care about. If they knew their favorite business would close they would do something about.
I will ask people on a sign on the streets and on a social media post:
Think about your favorite local business, what would you do if they were closing? Did you know that according to TakeBackNYC, every month, 1000–1200 New York City small businesses are forced to close their doors — most because they lost their lease?
If you want to help them survive, please share a photo of your favorite local business on Instagram. Follow these steps:
- Take a photo of your favorite NYC local spot
- Write in the comment why you like this place
- Tag the place and use the hashtag #HelpOurLocalNYCBusinesses
Problem 2: People choose shops and services based on their location.
Based on my user research, people tend to shop and get services from the same places based on their location and walk commute they do every day. They will walk an extra block for a restaurant, but not for other services, like coffee shops, dry cleaners, pharmacies, and grocery stores. So if there is a chain shop closer to them, they tend to go there instead of walking another block for a local one.
If people know more about the history of a local store and see a way of finding in the streets of this place, they would walk an extra block to shop there.
I will create a poster in front of a chain store telling the story of a local shop that offers similar services, and design a way of finding in the streets to guide people to the local store to test if people would change their choice.