The Uptown Grand Central initiative is a collaboration of merchants and neighbors along the east side of 125th Street who work together to enrich the area through collaboration, research, and creative community projects.
Since 2013, we have worked with business owners, property owners, residents, workers and community members to collaborate and improve the area for those who live and work in the diverse and vibrant community that surrounds East 125th Street in East Harlem. We have been widely recognized for our programs that have picked up garbage, beautified the streets, brought healthy food and exercise to the neighborhood, and provided employment to homeless people.
What We've Achieved
- Our merchants first banded together in 2013 to hold our first street clean-up. After an overwhelming positive response, we then partnered with the Association of Community Employment (ACE) to hire formerly homeless individuals to clean the streets from Second to Fifth avenues between East 123rd and 126th streets. Since the program's inception, more than 70,000 bags of trash have been picked up and, after receiving valuable job experience and training from ACE, 10 formerly homeless individuals have gotten a fresh start.
- Working with the Horticulture Society and more than 50 volunteers from the community, we have planted more than 2,000 daffodils and perennials along East 125th Street, greatly improving the street’s aesthetic appeal.
- Each December, we've installed holiday lights at each intersection along East 125th Street, adding some holiday cheer and sparkle to the neighborhood. We also sponsor a holiday tree at the Uptown Grand Central plaza.
- In September 2015, working with youth artists from Creative Art Works, we sponsored the bright new "Harlem Sunrise" mural on the former Metro-North comfort station located on the south side of East 125th Street & Park Avenue intersection. Inspired by "Harlem Encore," the public sculpture on the sides of the Metro-North viaduct by African-American artist Terry Adkins, the mural represents hope for prosperity and the vitality of the diverse peoples who pass through the 125th Street crossroads.
- Love our street trees? Look out for new metal tree guards to debut in Spring 2016.
- In the summer of 2015, working together with the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, the NYC Department of Transportation's Plaza Program, NYC Small Business Services, and the Association of Community Employment (ACE), we cleaned up the community plaza underneath the Metro-North viaduct at East 125th Street & Park Avenue -- an area with a reputation among area residents for trash, violence and drug use.
- The plaza, now known as the "Uptown Grand Central" plaza, welcomes area residents and commuters throughout the summer and fall with a rainbow of colorful tables and chairs and a packed calendar of programming that includes Lunchtime on weekdays, free Zumba classes, a Fresh Food Box program in conjunction with GrowNYC, and Good Vibes music nights.
- Over the years we have collaborated with artists ranging from the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, to Vy Higginsen's Mama Foundation for the Arts, to drummers of 4/5/6 train Fresh2Life to offer musical performances for residents and commuters in the Uptown Grand Central space.
- We love to party with our community with regular street fairs! In 2013 and 2014, we sponsored a Family Holiday Festival where hundreds of children and families from the community met Santa, drank hot chocolate, helped light the tree and received holiday presents. In the fall of 2015, we held two Weekend Walks in partnership with the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance and the NYC DOT. In 2015, we also hosted a Big Apple Crunch to celebrate Food Day in conjunction with Harlem Children's Zone, the Association to Benefit Children, P.S. 7, Edible Schoolyard, Global Community Charter School, the NYC Food Policy Center, Hunter College Nutrition Club, Central & East Harlem District Public Health Office, and NYPD 25th Precinct. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer presided over the Crunch, with more than 300 local apples eaten!
- Since the summer of 2014, we have sponsored a local produce market at 125th Street & Park Avenue. In Winter 2015-2016, we have been selected by GrowNYC to operate a Fresh Food Box produce program year-round, increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in East Harlem. Since the closure of Pathmark supermarket in November 2015, the Fresh Food Box has taken on greater importance, as northeast Harlem now has no full-service grocery options from East 121st and West 129th streets, from Third to Lenox avenues.
- In the spring, summer and fall, we host free weekly exercise classes in the Uptown Grand Central plaza.
small business support
- In December 2013, we sent a mailer to 5,000 residents with discounts at the stores of NHEMA merchants. In 2015, we also increased our use of mobile marketing and highlighted area merchants with a punch-card incentives via our Uptown Grand Central Lunchtime.
- In 2014, with support from the New York Department of Small Businesses Services, we conducted a customer retail experience report to better understand what merchants on the East 125th Street Retail Corridor were doing right and what they could do better. A report on the study was released in February 2015.
- In 2015, working with Small Business Services, NHEMA has been conducting an extensive Commercial District Needs Assessment for the East 125th Street commercial corridor. In addition to an accurate and inclusive map of the neighborhood's commercial and cultural offerings, this project promises to better define ways in which we can help merchants to better serve their retail customers, and attract new business.
- We send out a weekly newsletter highlighting news, stories and sales from our merchants and giving updates about our community efforts and initiatives in East Harlem.
- In November 2015, new NHEMA / Uptown Grand Central decals debuted in the windows of our independently owned merchants along the East 125th Street corridor. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, all small businesses along the corridor celebrated Small Business Saturday with special discounts and events for community members, a scavenger hunt for kids, and a street-long raffle. Due to the success of that day, we're continuing the small-business love each Saturday during Winter 2015-2016 with NHEMA pop-ups in front of participating merchants. Stop by and find out why it's important to Shop Our Local Stores.
- In addition to partnering with ACE to hire formerly homeless individuals, we also work with elected officials to address the issues of homelessness and drug use in our neighborhood. In 2015, we served on City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's 125th Street Working Group. We also were a featured community voice at a summer 2015 press conference held by U.S. Senator Charlie Rangel, State Senator Bill Perkins, and State Assemblymen Keith Wright and Robert Rodriguez. In summer 2015, we worked with homeless advocacy group Picture the Homeless to plant flowers along the corridor.
- Food access and healthy retail is a priority, and we work to bring new merchants to the area such as Wild Olive Market who can supply fresh food to our neighborhood. Most recently we have been working with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the NYC Food Policy Center on food-access issues regarding the recent closure of Pathmark supermarket.