The Age-Friendly Local Business Initiative

New York, New York

An educational outreach campaign in New York City gives businesses a boost in attracting and retaining older customers.

Identifying the Issue:
New York City is home to over 1 million older adults and attracts close to 4 million older tourists every year. Older adults in the United States, who outspent their younger counterparts by 1 trillion dollars in 2010, are more likely to frequent local, neighborhood businesses. Their spending has also increased nearly twice as fast as spending by people 35 and under, representing a lucrative opportunity for large and small businesses in every community around the country. However, most local businesses are not aware of the unique needs of older adults and are not yet invested in providing the appropriate customer service.

Applying a Replicable, Low-Cost Model:
To help small businesses reach and serve this target audience, the New York City Age-Friendly Local Business Initiative, an educational outreach campaign, provides advice on how to attract and better serve older customers at low or no cost. The initiative’s educational and self-assessment materials provide guidelines and tools to make a business more accommodating to older adults and help small businesses identify areas for improvement, such as website design, lighting, or customer service.

Businesses that participate in the initiative receive an age-friendly decal for their storefront and are included on lists promoted to older consumers so that residents are aware which retailers are committed to being age-friendly. The initiative has successfully signed up over 1,000 businesses citywide to participate since 2010.

Support for the Initiative:
The Age-Friendly Local Business campaign is supported by Age-Friendly New York City, a partnership between the Office of the Mayor, the New York City Council, and the New York Academy of Medicine. The partnership seeks to encourage all sectors of the city to rethink aging and consider how best to serve and benefit from this growing population. In order to achieve this goal, the partnership formed workgroups in various sectors, including an age-friendly business workgroup that helped to shape and continues to guide the current initiative. The business workgroup is a coalition of two dozen members, representing business improvement districts, chambers of commerce, large companies, small businesses, and a number of organizations with expertise in older adult employment issues.

Lessons Learned:

  • Cast a wide net: With over 200,000 small businesses in New York City, a door-to-door outreach campaign would have been very difficult. Instead, Age-Friendly NYC recommends first reaching out to business associations, like a Business Improvement District (BID), economic development corporation, or Chamber of Commerce, to more easily contact large numbers of local businesses. Showing up in person at a business association’s meeting will help to introduce an initiative and garner initial support. Once you have worked with a local association to reach as many businesses as possible, it will be easier to focus outreach down to an individual level.
  • Approach business leaders with the win-win: Emphasize how simple changes benefit both customers and businesses. Stress how a simple initiative, like discounted “senior lunches” when business is otherwise slow, can be a victory for everyone. 
  • Come prepared: To raise awareness of the needs and benefits of older adults, Age Friendly NYC created Age-friendly Local Retail Initiative materials. These materials, in simple, easy-to-read formats, include a business initiative pitch, a brochure, and mobility, sound, and business vision resource guides. The initiative distributed the materials to over 1,000 businesses through door-to-door campaigns, and they are also available on-line.

USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2023 winners!