The companies are housed in the Merchant Stores Building, a brick warehouse owned by The O’Connell Organization, a Red Hook-based real estate firm.
After visiting the Red Hook Winery, Fleishers Craft Butchery and Flickinger Glassworks, Hochul said the businesses are part of the resurgence of this part of Brooklyn.
“It’s most exciting for me to come to a place like this because an area that was so run down and so neglected and so overlooked for decades, the way it’s come back should be an inspiration to other parts of the state,” she said.
Gregory O’Connell, who runs The O’Connell Organization, and Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, joined Hochul on the brief tour. Hochul said they both treasure these types of small businesses.
“They understand that this is unique and we have to fight to protect this,” Hochul said. “But it’s also a place where new businesses that are 100 percent unique can come and congregate and flourish together, and to be an attraction for tourists as well as add to the quality of life to the people who made this neighborhood their home.”
She spoke to the business owners and representatives about some of the challenges they are facing. Hochul said the state government has reduced costs of businesses, citing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement of a $298 million tax cut for small businesses in his State of the State address.
More than 480,000 small businesses in New York City will benefit from the tax cut, according to the governor’s office.
“That’s going to give each one of these entrepreneurs more money in their pockets to expand the line, to do more marketing, to add more employees,” Hochul said. “That’s important.”
O’Connell said he bought the buildings along the Red Hook waterfront more than 30 years ago. It is now fully occupied.
“What we’ve done is open the waterfront for the public,” he said. “We’ve preserved the historical significance of the building, and we have hundreds of small businesses and thousands of jobs that we’ve created. It’s working.”
He said he’s been supportive of small businesses since he started his real estate company in the 1980s. He recommends having a good mix of arts, nonprofits and businesses.
“We find that if you become a community developer, the small businesses generally hire locally, they give back to the community, so it’s a perfect fit,” he said. “If you really want to have an impact that’s a balanced impact, between the jobs, home for small businesses, the arts, bringing people to the waterfront, I decided that we needed to assemble large parcels along the waterfront.”
O’Connell is also excited to have the water taxis come to the waterfront, which will make Red Hook a more tourist-friendly spot.
“It brings people and business and tourists so it’s a destination place now,” he said. “People can have a place to eat, walk, see art galleries, see different types of businesses. It creates a real hum for Red Hook.”
O’Connell said he met Hochul while he was doing business in small villages upstate. Using the same approach he used for the Red Hook waterfront, O’Connell looks to preserve the historical significance of buildings while helping to create and house small businesses.
“She showed great interest in visiting because you could always compare the rural development with the urban development,” he said of Hochul.
O’Connell’s next goal is to find a way to link the businesses in Red Hook and upstate New York.
“Somehow we can bring together all the pluses of upstate with Brooklyn here and bring them together to create more commerce and more jobs,” he said.