At a ceremony at SBS headquarters last Thursday, Commissioner Gregg Bishop presented certificates from the mayor to each of the honorees. Each small business was nominated by their borough’s chamber of commerce or other business organization.
“Each of you, in your own way, have contributed to building better neighborhoods,” Bishop said at the celebration. “Small businesses are the economic engine of New York City.”
The commissioner noted that roughly half of small businesses in the city never make it to the five-year mark. For restaurants, that number is closer to 80 percent.
In addition to receiving certificates, the honorees will also get free advertising on digital LinkNYC kiosks across the city during the month of May. They will also be featured in the agency’s social media campaign honoring centennial businesses.
NYC & Company, the city’s destination marketing and tourism organization, will also provide a one-year complimentary membership to each business.
The membership includes access to networking events, a member page that is visited by 14 million people annually and a listing on NYC & Company’s visitor and travel guides, which reach five million people each year.
One of the honorees is Sahadi’s, a family-owned Middle Eastern grocery store with two locations in Brooklyn. Originally from Lebanon, the Sahadi family first established their store in Manhattan 122 years ago, but moved to their current Downtown Brooklyn location on Atlantic Avenue in 1948.
Christine Sahadi Whelan and his brother Ron Sahadi are the fourth generation to run the family business. When Whelan’s son eventually takes over, he will be the fifth generation.
“It’s hard to be here for more than 100 years, but we are still trucking along,” she said. “We opened a new location this year, so obviously we’re looking forward definitely to the next 100 years.”
Their new location is located in Industry City in Sunset Park.
Ron Sahadi said being honored by the city “means everything,” especially because New York City is one of the toughest markets to survive and thrive in.
He attributed the store’s success to hard work and dedication by the family and their employees, many of whom have worked with the Sahadi’s for many years. Sahadi also pointed to the partnership with his loyal customer base, some of whom have been patronizing the store for generations.
As Brooklyn has changed over the last century, so have Sahadi’s products, the owners said, because the “customers dictate what we’re going to sell.”
“It’s great seeing a whole new influx of people from all around the world,” he added. “There are so many different products now that 20 years ago you would never think we’d need to have.”
The other Brooklyn honoree was Deno’s Wonder Wheel, which is owned by the Vourderis family. The Coney Island attraction, which is celebrating its 100th year in 2020, has been in continuous operation since its opening in 1920.
The only time it wasn’t in operation was the blackout of 1977. According to Bishop, the owners hand-cranked the ferris wheel to get riders off safely.
Dennis Vourderis, who runs the iconic wheel with his brother, sons and nephews, said his parents, who were Greek immigrants, started off as hot dog and ice cream vendors on the Coney Island boardwalk.
Vourderis’s father, Constantinos Dionysios Vourderis, was a World War II veteran who “came here with absolutely zero.” He worked his way into financial success, purchased the Wonder Wheel from the Garms family in June 1983, and restored it to what it is today.
“They didn’t care about working 15, 20 hours a day,” Vourderis said about his parents. “As many hours that were in a day, they worked.”
The Coney Island landmark was passed down from generation to generation. This Memorial Day weekend, the Vourderis family will host a large party to commemorate the exact day when the Wonder Wheel opened in 1920.
“We’re all here because we stood on the shoulders of giants before us,” said Deno Vourderis, 38, who is the third generation to run the wheel. “I’m more than thankful for the generation before us.”
One of the two Manhattan businesses recognized during the celebration was Russ & Daughters, a family-owned cafe and store that first opened in 1914 on the Lower East Side.
It was founded by Joel Russ, a Jewish immigrant from modern-day Poland who moved to the United States in 1907. Before opening a brick-and-mortar store, Russ walked the streets of the Lower East Side selling herring and other basic food to other Jewish immigrants, according to current owner Niki Russ Federman.
In 1920, Russ moved the store to 179 East Houston Street, where it has been ever since. Operated now by the fourth generation of Russ’s, the store is believed to be the first business in the country with the phrase “& Daughters” in its name, Bishop said.
“Part of our story over the last 106 years has been a strong commitment to this city,” Federman said.
When her parents ran the family business in the 70s and 80s, the Lower East Side was “not the place that it is today,” Federman said. Many customers urged them to move to Long Island or Westchester, but they refused.
“They stayed put, understanding how tied Russ & Daughters is to the city,” she said. “That sense of place is so important to who we are.
When the business needed a new production space to manufacture its own bagels, bialys and babkas, the family turned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where they opened a new location last year.
“We’re really tied to this town,” Federman added, “and we feel that Russ & Daughters is a literal and figurative taste of New York.”
The two Queens honorees were Bellitte Bicycles, a 102-year-old family-run cycling shop in Jamaica, and Sussman-Automatic Corporation, a 103-year-old Long Island City company that manufactures electric steam and hot water boilers for industrial, commercial and specialized applications.
Michael Pinkus, the company’s president, said Sussman-Automatic was part of the original “garmento culture” back when sugar and garments were the primary industries of the city.
In 1917, Arthur Sussman first created a steam iron for garment factories. Since then, the company has become the largest manufacturer of electric steam boilers in the world. The company started in Manhattan, but moved to Queens nearly six decades ago.
“We were really good at boiling water back then, and we’re still boiling water,” Pinkus said. “We’re just doing it smarter. We’re taking it to a high art.”
The company today has two major brands in its portfolio: MrSteam, which manufacturers quality steam shower systems and accessories, and Sussman Electric Boilers, which specializes in steam and hot water generators for hospitals, CBD companies, spas and resorts, and other industries.
Part of their success, Pinkus said, is having a “culture of innovation” at the company. While he has a background in product design, Neil Pilaar, the company’s vice president of the industrial boiler division, is an engineer by training.
“We have a lot of passionate people who really look to develop unique, innovative products,” Pinkus said.
The MrSteam systems, for example, have adapted with modern technology so well that users can control the temperature of their steam baths. They can also customize lighting in any color, add aromatherapy and more.
“It’s become a multi-sensory experience,” he said. “That’s highly valued in today’s consumer culture.”
Pinkus also pointed to the environmental and wellness benefits of steam, including its effects on the respiratory system, skin, stress and musculoskeletal health.
Other reasons for Sussman-Automatic’s success include having a flexible, built-in manufacturing base, investment in research and design, and a willingness to try different solutions.
Those factors support the more traditional pillars of a company, like a high-functioning sales force and marketing and purchasing teams, Pinkus said.
The company president said they employ more than 70 people, many of whom have worked at the Long Island City business for over four decades.
“The key to success is having great people,” he said, “great work-life balance and keeping them happy.”
At the conclusion of the event, SBS Commissioner Bishop said one common thread with all of the honorees is that they were started by immigrants.
He noted that more than half of New York City’s small businesses are owned and operated by foreign-born New Yorkers.
“We know immigrants are the backbone of the city,” Bishop said. “SBS is actively working to keep businesses growing and thriving across the five boroughs so everyone has a chance to celebrate their centennial anniversary.”