Roughly 60 residents filled the West Hempstead Fire Department for the Chamber of Commerce’s community forum on April 10. Local groups and organizations included the West Hempstead Historical Society, the Lakeview and West Hempstead fire departments, the West Hempstead Community Support Association and board members from the school district.
“There’s business to be had in this community,” said Marshall Myers, president of the Chamber of Commerce, who was elected in January. “Our objective is to bring the community to the businesses.”
Myers said that the chamber was working to increase membership. One of the challenges, however, is finding businesses to join the organization. Over the past few months, Myers has visited 88 community businesses, but none seemed interested.
“None of us can do it by ourselves,” he said at the forum. “We need the development, both commercially and residentially.”
Myers added that many small businesses in the community have suffered because of a lack of local support. He noted that there are many empty storefronts on Hempstead Turnpike, while larger companies, such as Starbucks, have heavy customer traffic. For local businesses to survive, he said, they have to engage in the community.
“If you’re a small business in 2019, that’s what needs to be done,” he said. “You have to have engagement with the community and their customers, face to face. If we can built our commercial base, I believe that at the very least, we should be able to stabilize our home property taxes.”
Guest speaker David Sargoy, a real estate broker from Brown, Harris, Stevens, said that many small businesses in West Hempstead also struggle due to a lack of available parking on streets like Hempstead Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike.
“That’s something that definitely needs to be addressed in West Hempstead,” Sargoy said. “The Chamber of Commerce can become a very powerful, political force that can get things done in the community.”
Patrick Curry, of West Hempstead, said that in ordere for the organization to move forward, every individual has to play an active role. “This area is ripe for development,” Curry said. “We’re going to have to speak up, and we’re going to have to do some things if we want to see any changes made.”
Fred Senti, a former chief of the Lakeview Fire Department, said that the reason why small businesses struggle in the community is that their shelf life is only three to five years, which is due to a lack of support. “The biggest problem isn’t the people in this room, who care about their community [and] that want these things to get better,” Senti said. “It’s the people who are not here and how they affect that system.”
Myers noted that hundreds of community members came together in 2011 to help rid West Hempstead of the Courtesy Hotel, a crime-ridden business that brought in prostitution and drugs, diminishing home values.
“That’s why I’m so happy to see all of you here tonight,” Myers said. “With numbers comes strength. With strength comes power, and with power comes change.”