Multimedia reporter

Sharing Business Space to Boost Income

DAILY NEWS, published 22 December, 2008

It’s a Saturday afternoon at the Great American Laundromat in the East Tremont section of the Bronx, where Hawa Sidibe has spent the better part of her day.

But she’s not impatiently awaiting the rinse cycle — she’s busy braiding a woman’s hair into neat rows in a makeshift salon the size of a walk-in closet.

Brushes and a hair dryer fill modest shelf space, as do items for sale: socks, gold-colored belts, knockoff designer bags and DVDs of African movies.

“An outside store is expensive for me, that’s why I have it inside a Laundromat,” said Sidibe, a 26-year-old immigrant from Mali.

At a time when the profit margins of countless small businesses are shrinking, shops-within-a-shop like Sidibe’s are multiplying throughout the city.

“It’s a great way for young companies to get started,” said Cliff Schorer, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. “Going forward, we are going to see a lot of this.”

To offset his expenses, Laundromat owner Peter Sternhas been subletting part of his space, on Southern Blvd. near the Bronx Zoo, for five years, first bringing in a woman selling beauty products, then a tax preparer.

“Usually people spend more than two hours in a Laundromat, so the more services the customers get in that time, the better competitive advantage the shop has,” Stern said. “Hawa helps me by paying rent, but the main thing is I want to keep my customers happy.”

Jessica Rivera was one customer who loved the idea of multi-tasking. “Hawa braids my hair, my kids do their homework, my clothes get dry,” she said.

Splitting space can make for close quarters, but also can help entrepreneurs get started.

Ricardo Torres, an immigrant from Colombia, saw a For Rent sign several months ago on the window of a shop on Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights,Queens. The location was prime, right near the subway.

Two businesses were already inside: a cell phone vendor and a photo developer. Torres opened a money-wiring business.

“The rent is cheaper here than if we’d have our own space, and we’d rather be smaller than waste money,” said Eduardo Maña, the manager of Torres’ business, Transmilenio Cargo. “It’s all about maximizing resources and minimizing costs.”

Whether such arrangements are legal depends on lease terms and the types of businesses. Whether they’ll be successful is another matter, since many are not natural partners.

Last year, Mamadou Diallo asked Zach Toolsee, owner of Toolsee Laundrymat onWestchesterAve. in the Bronx Riversection of the borough, if he could rent a portion of his space. Diallo, a recent immigrant from Guinea who also drives a taxi at night, wanted to set up a shop selling items like Chinese slippers, Yankee caps and bandanas.

Toolsee, facing $4,000 monthly rent and a $2,000 monthly water bill, among other charges, agreed for $1,000. A year later, both complain that business is slow.

“My dream is to start a business outside of a Laundromat,” Diallo said.