Business & Career Library

Small Business Guides: How Do I Find a Location for My Business?

In a business start-up, there are various legal responsibilities you should be aware of, to protect your business and avoid costly penalties. Many of the steps involve filing forms and keeping records that you can take care of yourself. Even if you intend to consult an attorney, you can reduce the cost of legal consulting by reading books that guide you through the process, or by looking at a few websites.

Following are some considerations you may have regarding the legal aspects of starting or running a business. Listed are books, agencies and links to websites that can give you information and assistance. In many cases, the links will allow you to download forms and file the necessary applications. Check out for "one stop shopping" to find commonly used forms for many federal agencies.

Finding the Right Neighborhood Finding the Right Space Getting the Right Price Zoning Negotiating a Lease Insuring the Property

Finding the Right Neighborhood

Your location is essential if you are opening a restaurant, a clothing store or other types of retail and service businesses where your clientele come to you. Your location can be your best form of advertisement if you are located in a busy area. A neighborhood's demographics are important. For instance, a day care center should be in a neighborhood with families who need and can afford day care. A bakery should not open where there are already two or three competitors. Therefore, you should research both the consumers and the competitors in the area in which you plan to locate.

Consumer Demographics

Check out our Market Demographics resources on this site for a description of the U.S. Census and other statistical sources. The census offers population and other demographics for individual zip codes or census tracts.

Real estate websites also provide demographics for an exact location, often for a fee. Free Demographics is good for free data. FFIEC Geocoding allows you to enter a street address to get population, income and housing information for the corresponding census tract.

Data on Competitors

To determine the number and type of businesses located in a geographic area you can use one of the following:

ReferenceUSA is a great database for information on both the individuals and the businesses found in a specific area. You can pull up the total number and the specific names of individuals and businesses by zip code, county, city, telephone area code and more. You can also create a list of enterprises by business category (such as plumbers, shoe stores, etc.) or size of business (measured by employee size or revenue size) all within a specific geographic area.

Dun & Bradstreet Regional Business Directory New York Metropolitan Area and Dun & Bradstreet Regional Business Directory Long Island, New York Area also cover businesses, but just those located in either the New York metropolitan area or Long Island and New York. The companies are listed by type of business (Standard Industrial Classification or SIC code), zip code or alphabetically, with a brief description of revenues, contact personnel and number of employees.

County Business Patterns. This U.S. Bureau of Census survey counts the number of establishments by type of business or employee size.

Finding the Right Space

Every business needs a space that will allow it to operate easily. You, the business owner, have to think about its specific requirements. If you have worked in your industry, this may not be difficult. If you have not, you will need an architect or real estate developer to outline the type of space you are looking for. Even if you are working at home, you may need to add electrical lines or telephone lines to accommodate your business. Consulting a building professional to design or create the right space is often necessary. Additionally, a professional can help with questions regarding building codes and zoning.

To begin your search you will probably want to enlist the services of a real estate broker or developer. The Real Estate section of this site identifies the library's numerous directories that list brokers, developers and other professionals in the field. You can also search online for commercial properties to lease or buy. Three great sites are:

The Business Library subscribes to Area Development, Business Facilities and Site Selection. Each of these periodicals also publishes a helpful annual directory issue, shelved in the Services Directories section under "Industrial Sites."

Community Development or Business Assistance Organizations offer a variety of services also. Established to encourage local economic development, these groups serve small businesses on many levels. They can help you locate properties, or refer you to reputable real estate brokers; they can help you identify special incentive programs such as the New York State Empire Zones and they can help you find financing solutions.

Local Business Assistance Providers are listed on our website. Or you can contact the New York City Department of Business Services (212-513-6300) and ask for information on Local Development Corporations (LDCs) and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Following are a few organizations in Brooklyn that offer location assitance:

New York City Economic Development Corporation
110 William Street
New York, NY 10038
The city offers many plans to help businesses, including tax credits and economic development zones. Check out the Business Incentives portion of the website.

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce - Real Estate & Development
7 Metrotech Center, Suite 2000
Brooklyn, NY 11201
The Chamber helps identify properties, obtain financing and access available incentive programs.

Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation
175 Remsen Street, Suite 350
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Links businesses with commercial brokers or LDCs, helps with financing and provides general business assistance.

Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
1368 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11216
Serves the Bedford Stuyvesant community economically and culturally.

East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation (EWVIDCO)
11-29 Catherine Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Administers the East Williamsburg In-Place Industrial Park, as well as the North Brooklyn Navy Yard Empire Development Zone. Site identification, infrastructure maintenance, job training and general business assistance are some of the services offered.

Local Development Corporation of East New York
80 Jamaica Avenue, 3rd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11207
Offers a wide array of services from economic development to start-up assistance. Administers the East New York In-Place Industrial Park and assists with eligibility for the NY Empire Development Zone incentives, plus business classes and loan packaging assistance.

Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation (SBDIC)
241 41st Street, 2nd floor
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Oversees the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Park, the Sunset Park Technology District (which offers pre-built office space wired with fiber optic cable) and the Southwest Brooklyn Empire Development Zone. SWBDIC can assist with their many incentive opportunities as well as helping you locate and finance space.

Once you have a location, building professionals, such as architects or contractors, can help you design the space you need. Even if you are working at home you may need to add electrical or telephone lines to accommodate your business. In addition to designing and constructing the space for your operations, a building professional can help answer questions about zoning and building codes. And don't forget, if you do construction or alter your space, you will also need a permit. Call the New York City Department of Buildings at 718-802-3681, 212-248-8530 or 212-248-8000.

To locate professionals of all types the Business Library's Directory Collection has a large number of directories that can assist you. There are also numerous websites:

The Blue Book of Building and Construction is another excellent site. Use the search boxes to enter your state and the type of professional you need. The site includes a category for expediters who can help you with permits, zoning and other regulations.

The Encyclopedia of Associations (national), Encyclopedia of Associations: Regional, State and Local Organizations and National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States all list trade organizations, many of which have websites. They are another way to locate professionals.

Getting the Right Price

Price is just as important as the right neighborhood and the right space. It is important to know what you can afford in relation to your savings and your business' income. This will impact where you look and the spaces you consider.

Remember that commercial leases are negotiable, just as property prices are negotiable. It helps to know what the market rate is. If you are leasing, ask other tenants in the building. If you are buying a building, you can research the price of other buildings in the area. The Real Estate section of this site, under Property Information, describes the resources in the Business Library and online that offer this sort of information.


If you have found a space to lease or buy, make sure the property is properly zoned. Every city has zoning ordinances that divide the city into districts for various activities. Neighborhoods are zoned as primarily residential or commercial to ensure a quality of life or ease of doing business. In New York City there are a number of different zoning designations for different types of business activity.

There are a couple of steps involved in determining the zoning status of a property.

  1. Identify the zoning code for a neighborhood by looking at New York City's official zoning maps. These maps can be found at:
  2. Identify the zoning code for a specific address by using:
    • Brooklyn Comps Directory at the Business Library Reference Desk
    • Redi Real Estate Microfiche at the Business Library Reference Desk
    • New York City Department of City Planning: Use the GeoQuery and Address Translator functions at the bottom of the homepage to search an address and obtain block and lot number as well as zoning code for that address.
  3. If you have the block and lot number you may call to get the zoning designation:
    • The New York City Department of City Planning Zoning Information Desk , 212-720-3291
    • Brooklyn Borough President's Office, Economic Development 718-802-3854.
  4. To understand what restrictions apply to a specific code use:
    • The Zoning Handbook, available at the Business Library. You can also purchase it from the NYC Department of City Planning Map & Bookstore, 22 Reade Street, New York, NY 10007, 212-720-3667.
    • The New York City Zoning Resolutions, available in print at the Business Library.
    • The New York City Zoning section of The Department of City Planning's website offers a good explanation plus the actual text of the Zoning Resolution.

If the property is not zoned to suit the needs of your business, it is possible to get a variance. Home-based businesses are subject to special restrictions and need to be careful regarding zoning laws, since it is likely your home is in a residential district. To make inquiries about variances or if you are unsure about restrictions, contact the Department of City Planning at 212-720-3480 or 718-643-7550. You should also be aware of health, safety and building ordinances. Certain business licenses and permits outline these requirements. See Legal Aspects of Starting Your Business to get information on licenses and permits. A contractor or architect can once again help you with compliance issues. See the information on Finding the Right Space (above) to help you locate a professional.

Negotiating a Lease

After you have found a site, you need to sign a lease if you are renting, or a contract if you are buying the space. These documents outline a number of terms, and in both cases the terms can be negotiated. It is extremely helpful to retain a lawyer to make sure the terms are favorable. See the section on Legal Aspects of Starting Your Business for help locating an attorney.

The lease for a rental space should contain some basic items, such as your right to renew the lease, and whether the landlord or tenant is responsible for repairs or improvements. You can find many basic details on negotiating these terms in one of the books in the Business Library's collection; using the Library Catalog, look for titles on negotiating real estate transactions or on legal aspects of running a small business. Additionally the Small Business Center has two pamphlets that cover negotiating a lease:

  • "What You Need to Know About Commercial Leases" from Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton
  • "Legal Aspects of Home-Based Businesses" from Accion NY.

Websites also have information on rental contracts:

Insuring the Property

Once you have a location do not overlook the necessity of insuring your business. Your insurance plan doesn't have to be complicated. There are two types of necessary coverage:

  1. Property, to protect your building against theft and fire.
  2. Casualty, to protect against claims of negligence incurred by customers while on your property or while using your products.

Most small businesses are covered by a "business owner's policy" or BOP; this is a package offered by insurance companies. This type of package often includes business interruption coverage that covers expenses such as payroll when income is lost due to disaster. To make sure your package covers the individual needs of your business such as professional liability or product liability insurance or disability coverage, it is wise to meet with an insurance agent or broker.

To better understand your options, you can take out one of the library's books on starting a business or the legal aspects of running a business, which usually have chapters on insurance. Use the Library Catalog to find titles. The Insurance Information Institute is an excellent resource for insurance basics. Visit their website and click on "Business," or call them at 212-346-5500 for more information.

A good way to find affordable insurance is through a trade association. The rates are usually better for a group of buyers, and the policies are often geared toward the particular needs of your business. The Encyclopedia of Associations can, once again, help you find an association to join. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is an umbrella organization for entrepreneurs, offering discounts and special services, including property/casualty, workers' comp, health and other types of insurance. Click on "Member Benefits" on their homepage or call 800-NFIB-NOW.

A good way to locate insurance agents is to get references from other business owners. You can also use one of the directories found in the Business Library's Directory Collection. A good online directory is Independent Insurance Agents "Find an Agent" search on the right hand side of the homepage. If you wish to verify the financial stability of the insurance company you are considering, use Best's Insurance Reports: Property-Casualty. It rates all major insurance suppliers (not individual agents) in the U.S. and can be found on the financial reference shelves at the Business Library.

Other Small Business Guides: