Rev. Carmen’s activism has become legendary in the South East Bronx community. For years, she has been meeting with small business owners and persuading them to work together. She realized the future of the Bronx depended on building both a strong business outlook and a real sense of community as strong as a closely-held family. The concept of family is familiar comfort to Rev Carmen. She was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx as an infant where she has lived her entire life. She has nine siblings on her mother’s side and another nine siblings from her father’s side. Rev. Carmen Hernandez is the CEO/Founder/Pastor of Stratford Community Services, Inc. in the Soundview section of the Bronx, where for 30 years she has helped empower at-risk, inner city kids. Rev. Carmen is also the President and Founder of the first New York City LGBT Chamber of Commerce. The mission of the NYC LGBTQS Chamber of Commerce, Inc. is to foster economic development opportunities for LGBTQS businesses in the Bronx & in NYC. Rev Carmen has been given so many awards for her activities to help young people that a recent post on her Facebook page by Christopher Wiscovitch says it all, “Muahzzz the work you do Rev for the community speaks louder than any award you can ever have. You have left and impression in this world that will last for generations to come!”
I’ve lived in this area since I was 18 and now I’m 51. I live in a building that’s been forgotten. Just coincidently I took a workshop and found out that they’ve been trying to sell the building where I live to a developer. It explains why the place is kept run-down and they won’t do any repairs. They keep pushing poor people out of the Bronx. They try to bully us, but we’re going to fight it. This is our home.
Building a small business in the Bronx is different from building a business in other part of the country simply because it’s New York City. The city government makes it hard for a small business to get established and to become profitable because of all the taxes that they have to pay. There are also licensing issues, which are not friendly to small businesses. For example, a license is attached to an address. So say a restaurant goes out of business, then later even if there is a new owner, the prior business failure is still attached to the address. I’ve seen cases where a small business owner couldn’t get a liquor license because of the previous business owners who were associated with the address even when it’s a new and different business. I’ve been meeting with Mayor DeBlasio to see how this system can be changed.
There are always times when small businesses get bullied by the city of New York. Joe’s Place is a very popular Caribbean eatery that is so well known that when Fidel Castro came to the Bronx, Joe Torres was the only person assigned to cook for him. The city has harassed Joe Torres. Once when he was on vacation with his family, he had to fly everyone back to the Bronx because the city closed the restaurant for two weeks because of some kind of made up technicality. The people in the license department keep messing with him. This is the problem with the Bronx. We have corrupt politicians. Thank God, Joe’s still in business because we fought it. Joe’s Place is world famous for its good food and it’s a favorite of many known artists like Tito Nieves, Marc Anthony, Johnny Pacheco, and some local politicians.
In the Bronx, we’re proud of our local businesses and we’ve taken a stand against allowing the corporations like Dominos, Dunkin Donuts, MacDonald’s, Burger King to come in and takeover. We want the small business owners who are supporting their families and who are selling healthy, real food. These corporations are a threat to small businesses. If you look at communities across American, not only here in the Bronx, and you will see how they’re not community friendly. If you walk into any of our local businesses, they know your name and they know the name of every kid who passes by on the street. Try ordering something at a corporate chain and you have to call an 800 number and they put you on hold. Here, in the Bronx, you can go to the local pizzeria and the guy will treat you like a real human being. It’s for this reason why you won’t find a Wal-Mart in the Bronx. We don’t want them here. We fought Wal-Mart. We wouldn’t allow them to come in our neighborhood. If people want to shop at Wal-Mart then they can go to New Jersey.
Wal-Mart is known for their poor labor practices including some of the lowest paying wages in the country and a failure to provide health care coverage for its workers. Most of Wal-Mart’s employees, who have children, live below the poverty line. We don’t need that type of so-called job opportunity here in the Bronx. In the Bronx if you work hard, you get rewarded for your success. We have a strong community and stand for core values. If you come here and work hard, people will stand up for you and not allow you to get bullied. We have an association to bring more local businesses to the community. As a chamber president, it’s my job to protect the business. We are all looking out for one another. We cannot afford not to help another merchant in our community. When lot of the politicians see me standing at city hall, they know who I am, they know my conviction, and they know I’m a force to reckon with.
The most important advice I can give to a business owner is to seek opportunity and don’t worry about making money. Now, I know no business wants to hear about not making money, so I have to be clear about what I’m saying. A business owner has to see the opportunities. It’s a business owner’s responsibility to get out there and network. If you’re just in it for the money, that’s a turn-off. It’s about building relationships. If you greet every customer who comes into your business as if you’re building a relationship, that’s something they will remember and keep coming back. Then the money just follows. You start making money because you’ve made all of these great relationships in the community. You have to love what you do. Then you find your place in the world. –PV