Tanya Pyco attends to a customer at her salon on Southern Boulevard. Photo by Joe Hirsch.

Greater collaboration between South Bronx businesses may be on the horizon.

The Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corp. (WHEDco) recently began a program focused on helping Bronx-based businesses by putting them into contact with each other and encouraging local purchasing.

The community development nonprofit works with 168 businesses along the Southern Boulevard commercial corridor, offering technical assistance and advice to increase profits. On Dec. 6, they held their second panel discussion and networking event called, “Building Community & Business Wealth: Reimagining Local Purchasing in the Bronx,” where they invited the businesses they work with through the Southern Boulevard Merchant Association, to meet each other and discuss potential ways to help each other.

“We are definitely in the beginning stages of discovering what our capability and capacity is” said Jamila Diaz, senior program manager for community development at WHEDco. “When we bring the business owners out to these events, and they meet each other, and they talk to each other, we find out more possibilities of what we can do.”

As Diaz stated, the program is still in its infancy, but a few strategies for increasing collaboration between businesses have already been envisioned.

WHEDco hopes to create a series of walking tours for employees of institutions like schools, churches and more in the South Bronx so that those institutions can be more connected to their neighborhood and its local businesses. The nonprofit also plans to ask these institutions about the goods and services they purchase to see if it can provide cheaper alternatives through the Bronx-based businesses that WHEDco works with.

These initiatives only exist in theory at the moment, but a specific plan with the actions the development corporation plans to take will be drawn up at the end of January.

“Right now it’s just a dialogue,” said Diaz, “but we feel that there is opportunity and momentum with hyper-local purchasing.”

Beyond the program’s potential to drive economic growth, Diaz also stressed its potential to build community and the importance of knowing your neighbor. This sentiment has been echoed by some business owners in the Southern Boulevard commercial corridor, like William Bryant, owner and founder of Juiceade, a juice bar business.

“If you don’t have a community-based ideal, then it’s just taking,” he said, “and there’s too many people coming into these communities and just take-take-taking.”

Another Southern Boulevard business owner, Tanya Pyco, says her beauty salon has fallen on hard times in the past four years and hopes who hopes the merchant association will help give business a boost.

“I’ve lost a lot of clients,” said Pyco, 50, the founder and owner of Tanya’s Beauty Place, in Spanish, adding that although she keeps a steady presence on social media to keep customers aware of her salon, it’s not enough.

“Since the pandemic, people have learned how to do their own hair,” she said. “Many of them now work from home, so they don’t care how they look.”

At WHEDco’s first networking event and panel discussion, local businesses were already beginning to collaborate. A pest control business received information about an institution that could use their services and the application to provide those services. One catering business offered a business opportunity that it could not fulfill to another Bronx catering business.

“There are possibilities and relationships that were made during those forums that will help Juiceade in the future,” said Bryant.

Economic programs like this offer much-welcome help in a community economically scarred by COVID. For many business owners, the goal is not just to increase profits, but to simply maintain their business and recover from the financial difficulties incurred by the pandemic.

WHEDco opened in 1992 with the goal of creating “healthy, vibrant communities.” Since then, the development corporation has invested in projects like affordable green homes and the Bronx Music Heritage Center, and they have established programs for education and youth development, family counseling services, and community revitalization, among others.

To support local businesses that WHEDco works with, you can check out their local business directory here.

Additional reporting by Joe Hirsch.

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