Although New York City has reopened, many local businesses have been unable to survive the economic burden created by Covid-19. This has particularly impacted New York City’s restaurant industry, as 1,300 restaurants have reportedly closed between March and July 2020 such as Gem Spa, an iconic institution on St. Marks Place and 69 Bayard in Chinatown.
A longtime resident of the Lower East Side, 37-year-old William Grand quickly saw his friends' businesses struggle when the city forced non-essential companies to shut down in March. Although Grand was a full-time DJ and music consultant, he cut his teeth making clothes during the aughts with his brand Beandip, which once had a store on Eldridge Street. That brand has since faded out, but Grand had an idea over the last couple years for a new venture centered around making merch for his favorite neighborhood businesses. When Covid-19 hit, he realized that selling T-shirts would be the perfect way to raise funds for local businesses and give back to the city he loves.
“Obviously, that new T-shirt isn't going to save the entire business, but every little bit helps,” says Grand, who started out making charitable T-shirts for LES favorites like the sandwich shop Regina’s Grocery and Japanese eatery Takahachi. “It started with those businesses and then it snowballed from there."
As of September 1, Grand’s brand Neighborhood Spot has raised over $150,000 for small businesses and other charitable causes in New York City. Today, a Neighborhood Spot capsule is available on the Complex Shop. The T-shirts are designed by Grand and local New York City artists such as Roachi, Sheryo and Yok, and Bobby Engvall. Each is sold via pre-order for around $35 to maximize donations and screenprinted in either New York, New Jersey, or Florida. After production, the brand is able to typically donate about 50 percent of each T-shirt's sticker price towards the business or charity it highlights. Any extra T-shirts and proceeds are donated to the businesses or organizations Neighborhood Spot partners with. The businesses do not pay a cent to produce these T-shirts. Neighborhood Spot handles all of the costs. The brand has helped numerous small businesses in Downtown Manhattan stay afloat, like the Army & Navy Bags store on Houston Street.
“He had maybe five days left to figure out how he was going to pay his rent or he was going to be shut down,” says Grand, who collaborated with the popular New York City Instagram influencer New York Nico to help raise funds that saved the 61-year-old business. “Luckily, New York pulled together and he's now in a very good position where he's not going to have to shut down.”
Aside from producing T-shirts for beloved local eateries and businesses, Grand has also made T-shirts to raise funds for organizations like Bailout NYC, Covid Bailout, and the People's City Council. Recently, Neighborhood Spot released “Rent Relief Lottery” T-shirts, a new program which aims to alleviate a lucky New Yorker’s rent the first of every month.
“While making all these tees for businesses, we were sitting here thinking, ‘Okay, well there's still people here that are struggling who can't pay their rent too,’” says Grand. “So what if we did a shirt for the people of New York, have that be the fund, and have all the proceeds from that shirt go to paying someone's rent.”
Right now, Grand is still looking for older businesses that could use Neighborhood Spot’s helping hand—he has recently begun working on a capsule for the Alphabet City institution Ray's Candy Store. But in the future, Grand hopes to bring Neighborhood Spot merch programs to other major cities that highlight the spots where true locals go.
“Who knows when we're going to be out of the weeds with shutdowns, Covid, limited seating, and everything. But even when things come back to 100 percent, a lot of these places are still going to be down for the year,” says Grand. “I feel like there's never enough restaurant merch, so this is why we're here. There's always going to be another brand popping up, but these restaurants are really the backbone of our project.”