A new report led by Epicenter-NYC shows the impact of spaces like the Queens Night Market as incubators and on-ramps for entrepreneurs and business owners

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend who was trying to grow his food business. He makes this dish that blends parts of his culture from here and there, and I can attest it is unique and delicious. 

“Why don’t you try the Queens Night Market?” I asked. 

“I can’t afford to,” he said. “You have to price it at $5 and I usually sell for double that.”

The conversation moved along. But I’ve been thinking about him again lately, after the release of a survey about night markets, their vendors and attendees. Conducted by Epicenter with support from Citizens Bank, the study basically finds that the venue allows small businesses to launch and share a piece of their culture with their community. But significantly, it also found that three-quarters of patrons want to buy from vendors outside of the setting of the night market. This is meaningful because it underscores the value of these markets as a platform to introduce and market new products. 

So whereas my friend saw the idea of setting up as a money loser — ”I can’t afford to” — this new research shows that there is a long-tail benefit. And support this year from Citizens Bank allowed vendors, who are reeling from rising costs overall, to sell in the same price range. After reading the report, I sent it to my friend and said: actually, how can you afford not to? 

It’s not just food vendors that contend with these calculations and often want upfront assurances. As a small business owner myself, I constantly hear fellow entrepreneurs tell me they can’t spend, say, the $3,000 to get to a certain event. But if attending results in a six-figure deal, then perhaps it was the best money you “lost,” no? 

When we talk about operating with a sense of abundance, these opportunities — to try — make all the difference. It’s the path I recommend for more small businesses, aware that my ability to do so has rested on a healthy line of credit, a penchant for risk and a belief that customers will come around—if only we give each other a chance. 

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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