Yesterday, standing inside the Upper West Side’s Halal Guys restaurant, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer unveiled her “Small Business Big Impact: Opportunity for Manhattan Storefronts” report (PDF), which outlines ideas to help small businesses survive and thrive in a city where even Starbucks can’t afford the rents. A major part of the plan is a mandatory negotiation period between landlords and commercial tenants, where the landlord would have to notify the store owner 180 days in advance of the end of the lease whether a renewal will be offered.
The borough president and Councilman Robert Cornegy, chair of the small business committee, are drafting a proposed bill that would enforce the plan. “Small storefront businesses and vendors create jobs and add value, vibrancy, and diversity to our neighborhoods—New York would not be New York without them,” asserted Brewer.
A typical lunchtime line at the Halal Guys cart, via Wiki Commons
Within the 180 days both parties have the opportunity to negotiate and, if necessary, seek mediation. If they can’t reach an agreement the tenant’s lease will be extended for one year with a maximum 15 percent rent increase, providing time for the store to seek an alternate location. Other ideas include using federal funds to allow tenants to buy their space (a condo-ization of sorts), creating low-intensity commercial districts in areas with extremely high rents and encouraging the tech sector to develop apps geared toward the small business community.
Another part of the plan is to open up street vending to more people, as Brewer called it “a low cost gateway to business ownership.” The press conference was held at the Halal Guys because founder Muhammed Abouelenein began with a food cart in midtown, then grew to many carts, and now has two brick-and-mortar locations in New York, as well as outposts in Chicago, California, and in Asia.
Chain stores, via Flickr
The Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which also advocates for giving businesses an opportunity to negotiate lease renewals and reasonable rent increases, has been lingering in the city council for decades. Brewer said her plan is different in that it would make the negotiation period mandatory and won’t stipulate a 10-year minimum lease.
The borough president’s office has been working closely with Jeremiah Moss, who launched his wildly popular #SaveNYC campaign earlier this month. “Small businesses in New York City have no rights. You’ve been here 50 years and provide an important service? Tough luck—your space now belongs to Dunkin’ Donuts. You own a beloved, fourth-generation, century-old business? Get out—your landlord’s putting in a combination Chuck E. Cheese and Juicy Couture.” Moss is referring to the fact that under current law a landlord can evict a tenant by denying a lease renewal or raising the rent so high that only a large chain could afford it.
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