Three years ago, serial entrepreneur Gino Pacheco tried out a new career: stay-at-home dad.
Pacheco, 40, a native Bronxite who started his first business at the age of 14, quickly became restless and began thinking about his next venture. “I always wanted to find things about the Bronx,” said Pacheco. “I was on Google looking for stuff and I just couldn’t find anything. I thought there was a void for that.”
Last July, Pacheco launched Bronx411.com, a new Bronx-focused online directory that helps small business owners in the Bronx get more bang for their marketing buck – especially since it’s free. Pacheco and his team have been helping member businesses from the 204th Street Bainbridge Merchant Association in Norwood get up and running on the site. So far a handful of businesses have set up their pages and are reporting small successes. For others, technology learning curves and a lack of time remain a challenge.
Pacheco’s own business start-ups include real estate agencies, bars, including Beso Lounge and Lexa Bar and Garden on East 204th Street, and a handful of other successful ventures. But he didn’t have any tech experience. So, being a go-getting entrepreneur, he taught himself how to build a website and pulled together a team to make his vision a reality.
On Bronx411, businesses can post their hours, a description, and pull in social media feeds from sites like Twitter and Facebook. Besides business listings, the site also has sections for Bronx news, jobs and events.
“Because Yelp and things like that are larger sites, the Bronx tends to get kind of drowned out,” Nicole Perrino, creator of Bronxmama.com, a leading blog for Bronx parents, said. “We definitely need that one go-to place.”
Early web traffic is ranging between 16,000 to 40,000 visitors per day, without any promotion. Pacheco plans to push the site to wider audiences in the coming months and then hopes to work with other merchant associations in the Bronx to get their businesses on Bronx411.
On East 204th Street, La Nueva Estrella restaurant used their page to set up a delivery deal on their lunch special. “It helps me with my promotion and getting the name of the business out there,” Caroline Almonte, who manages online marketing for the restaurant, said. The restaurant has since seen an increase in traffic to their page and an uptick in lunch business.
Leroy Pharmacy, also an East 204th Street business, has been able to list its full range of services and picked up some “likes” on Facebook.
Melissa Lebron of Windows of Hip Hop, a non-profit focused on hip-hop education, has gained some media attention through her page on the site.
But for other small business owners, getting online has proved intimidating and hard to fit into their busy schedules.
Melissa Cebollero, senior director of community relations for the Montefiore Health System and the Mosholu Preservation Corporation (MPC, publishers of the Norwood News), provided support and helped secure funding for the project from the New York City Department of Small Business Services. Cebollero recognizes many small business owners simply don’t have enough hours in the day. “It’s hard enough to start a business, it’s hard enough to start a business as a new American, and it’s even harder to learn or afford to really market yourself in a real way,” she said. But in the age of the smartphone, she acknowledges that an online presence is rapidly becoming the norm. Not giving our local merchants an opportunity to compete in that new world puts them at a real disadvantage,” Cebollero said.
To help more businesses get online and on Bronx411, Pacheco and his team regularly spend time setting up pages for small businesses and training them on how to use social media. “I am trying to teach these owners that don’t have the capability of operating a computer,” Pacheco said. “I am telling them, ‘I’ll teach your son; I’ll teach your daughter how to do this. It’s really simple.’”
In the future, Pacheco wants Bronx411 to reach people outside the borough as a way for them to rethink their perception. “I want people to understand that the Bronx is beautiful, the Bronx is smart, the Bronx is a great place to live and raise your family,” Pacheco said.