Running a business in Greenpoint (or anywhere) is no easy feat, as we’ve seen with the onslaught of recent closures of both longtime haunts and short-lived spaces. That’s where Mark T. Stinson, Shops of New York, and their second annual short film festival on September 12 comes in.

Shops of New York Film Festival is on a mission to show the breadth and life of the whole city by sharing the stories of the small businesses (and the people who run them and love them) that make NYC what it is.

Stinson (who moved to NYC from Nebraska in 2000 and has remained since) and his friend Kiki Conway started the Instagram account Shops of New York in 2020 as “a celebration of New York’s independent shops and the passionate and fascinating people behind them.” The profile has over 19,000 followers and has featured everything from bodegas to bookstores to boutiques, including local spots like Mikey’s Hookup and Wonders of Walter. Three years after the account was born, Stinson launched the film festival to take Shops of New York to new heights by encouraging New Yorkers to engage with local businesses in a more creative way: by featuring them in original short films.

“Everyone’s got such a unique perspective on how they experience the city and how they experience their local small businesses,” Stinson explained. “And the city is like made up of so many different little villages and I’m excited to see how far we can kind of dig into those. I think that every small business has a story and every small business owner has a story and why they do it, why they’re there — people aren’t in it for the glory.”

A screenshot from @shopsofnewyork/Instagram

But while glory may not be the primary goal, there’s still a lot of pride to be shared for filmmakers and business owners alike whose films and shops are featured in the fest. Stinson has received nothing but positive feedback from last year’s participants and plans to find ways to get small businesses and creatives even more involved with the actual festival events this year.

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Last year’s festival featured Eydie, a narrative short directed by Marissa Velez centered around Toñita’s Caribbean Social Club, a Puerto Rican outpost owned and operated by matriarch Maria Antonia Cay (Toñita herself) that’s been at 244 Grand Street since the 1970s and is the last of its kind in the neighborhood.

And if you’re a short filmmaker and are endeared to a Greenpoint or Williamsburg business, consider this article your calling card. Submissions are open now until August 2.

Filmmakers of all skill levels, backgrounds, and perspectives are invited to submit 3-10-minute films, and those selected will be screened at SVA Theater during the festival and eligible for $500-$1,000 cash prizes. Prize categories include student films, scripted or narrative shorts, documentaries, and a community impact award.

And when it comes to winning, judges look at storytelling, audience engagement, creativity, originality, and cinematography, though the ones that tend to resonate the most are those that focus on not just businesses, but the communities built around them.

Stinson isn’t convinced that that fact only applies to films, either — when it comes to keeping a business alive and afloat when it seems to get increasingly more difficult to, he suspects that community plays a paramount role.

“The community aspect is a huge part of running a small business in New York City. I mean, you have to wear so many different hats as a small business owner that it sort of blows me away,” Stinson said. “I think engagement with their community and creativity and flexibility, some people are able to do that better than others. There’s so much stacked against small businesses in the city that you have to really excel at many different areas to succeed.”

If you have a story you’re dying to tell about a local business, submit here.

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