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Study: Diamond District Faces Critical Moment

By Rob Bates, News Director
Posted on August 2, 2011
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Study: Diamond District Faces Critical Moment

The Diamond District is now the second largest wholesale and manufacturing sector in New York City, according to a new study released by the 47th Street Business Improvement District, in collaboration with the New York State Empire State Development Corporation.

This is up from a 1992 study conducted by then-Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger, which ranked the industry as the city’s third wholesale and manufacturing sector.

47th Street BID executive director Michael Grumet tells JCK the survey was done because his group “wanted to show elected officials and government how much of an impact this industry has, just how important we are, and what jobs we have.”

Grumet notes that the industry accounts for $24 billion in economic impact, outranking the city’s famous cultural institutions, which account for only $18 billion.

Yet while a significant income generator, the New York trade faces significant challenges, the study notes, including competition from abroad, an aging workforce, a declining physical environment, and the high cost of doing business in New York.

“This is a critically important moment for New York City’s diamond and jewelry industries,” the study says. “The industry has received little acknowledgement and support from government. [It] is at a crossroads, in which both decisions and investments need to be made.”

The report makes the following recommendations:

• Update the street’s physical appearance.

“The street’s appearance ought to reflect the quality of the goods sold there,” Grumet says. “The way it is now the sidewalk changes from building to building. I have a proposal to totally replace the concrete on the street with concrete that is photocatalytic, meaning it reacts with sunlight. It would make the streetscape much nicer.”

Other suggestions include adding a shimmer to the sidewalk, or creating the district’s own version of Hollywood’s Walk of Stars.

• Promote the Diamond District as a tourism destination, by working with local tourism agencies, and making it a stop for tour buses.

• Explore new business models, including secondary markets that resell finished jewelry.

• Collaborate with area universities and training programs.

“The workers are aging out,” Grumet says. “The only way we can retain this industry is by getting a new generation of cutters and polishers.”

• Deal with street “hawkers” who many feel hurt the street’s image. But the study notes that despite many efforts to eliminate the street salesmen, they present a “complex legal issue, given the constitutional protections afforded to commercial speech.”

• Expand the capacity of the 47th Street Business Improvement District, which the study says is “understaffed in comparison to others of its size.”

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