The New Harlem East Merchants Association (NHEMA) got its start in 2013 when mom-and-pop stores along East 125th Street were struggling to keep their doors open and repeatedly hearing: “We don’t shop on East 125th Street because it’s too dirty and we are accosted by people panhandling, and ...”
Recognizing this problem, merchants on one block between Fifth and Madison avenues began to organize informally to improve the area. A mural was painted announcing themselves as "The New Harlem East." Then, with brooms in hand, joined by 40 volunteers from the neighborhood, NHEMA members held their first street clean-up.
As more merchants and community members learned of the efforts, NHEMA grew and was able to receive grant funding and take on more ambitious projects. This included hiring ACE (the Association of Community Employment) to do street cleaning -- an innovative strategy that brightens up the area and provides homeless individuals with a clear path off the streets. We also began to take on other projects such as connecting merchants and residents with discounts to area stores, beautifying the area with flowers and tree pits, organizing street festivals for East Harlem residents, launching a farm-fresh produce market, sponsoring holiday lights along the East 125th Street corridor, and in 2015, launching our Uptown Grand Central plaza program underneath the Metro-North viaduct at 125th Street & Park Avenue.
In 2016, we expanded to create Uptown Grand Central, a 501c3 nonprofit that works to support, strengthen and showcase all that is "grand" about our neighborhood, from small businesses to culture to greening to art. Our goal is to transform the East 125th Street corridor by putting advocacy into action.