With rents on the rise and the e-commerce industry showing no signs of slowing, the livelihood of small businesses in New York City remains under threat. Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents parts of Brooklyn, hopes to address the high rate of retail vacancies across the city with legislation to regulate commercial rents, as Gothamist first reported. “It’s a complex problem,” Levin, who will introduce a bill to the City Council next week, told the website. “We think it’s time to introduce this into the conversation.”
Small Business Jobs Survival Act
McNally Jackson bookstore on Spring Street. Image by Carl Mikoy via Flickr.
As one of New York City’s finest all-around independent bookstores, McNally Jackson booksellers on Prince Street is a literary standby for the latest bestsellers as well as thought-provoking political non-fiction, art books, cards, magazines, readings and more. Though the shop occupies a spot on one of the city’s most highly-trafficked “High Streets,” it has endured for 15 years, long enough to be taken for granted. But that would, of course, be a mistake in the city’s current environment of empty storefronts in high rent neighborhoods because only Amazon can afford the rent. And right about the time Amazon has opened a storefront in Soho, the beloved bookseller is moving out after the rent was raised to $850,000–a 136% increase. Fear not, the owner is opening again in a new location, but unlike other, less gutsy mom-and-pop proprietors, she has no fear of being very vocal about the issue, Fox5 NY reports.
It seems that every day we’re hearing of small businesses being forced to move or shut down altogether due to rising rents in just about every corner of the city. Even icons like St. Mark’s Bookshop and Other Music have packed it in after years at their well-loved locations. And new businesses have an even tougher road ahead, trying to gain a foothold in changing neighborhoods where landlords hope change brings high-paying tenants.
There are a number of grassroots efforts in the works to help businesses gain and maintain a foothold when faced with skyrocketing rents and challenging regulatory hurdles–and more help may be on the way. DNAInfo reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign legislation Tuesday that prevents harassment of commercial tenants by greedy landlords. Advocates hope the new law will make it less difficult for small businesses to thrive and grow.
Courtesy of James and Karla Murray authors/photographers of “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York“
“The evidence of disease is everywhere,” claims Jeremiah Moss. No, he’s not talking about New Yorkers’ health; this is something he believes is even more merciless: hyper-gentrification. Moss, the pseudonymic chief editor behind the “bitterly nostalgic” blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York and the founder of the anti-gentrification movement #SaveNYC, and James and Karla Murray, authors and photographers of “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York” submitted a short film to last month’s Municipal Arts Society Summit 2015. The ten-minute clip opens with a sinister assertion that “the soul of New York is dying,” and plays as a visual obituary of the small businesses we have lost over the past two decades.
Shortly after Jeremiah’s melancholic melodrama, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen was asked whether New York should adopt commercial rent control policies. Unconvinced this is an applicable solution, she instead emphasized that a “healthy and vibrant mix of businesses” is important and “bad” businesses must be allowed to fail. Nor is Glen convinced of the plight of the mom and pop, calling it a Manhattan-centric argument. While she acknowledges certain neighborhoods are changing rapidly, she says independent businesses are thriving in other boroughs.
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.
On Monday, we took a look at #SaveNYC, a new campaign helmed by Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York that’s fighting to save the city from the superrich. Moss’ end goal is to get the Small Business Jobs Survival Act passed, “which would give businesses an opportunity to negotiate lease renewals and reasonable rent increases, whereas right now a landlord can outright kick a tenant out by denying a lease renewal, or hiking up rents so that only large chains can afford them.” While this is undoubtedly a noble undertaking, Moss has been criticized by the press in the past for his sometimes “bitter” or “one-sided” nature, so do you think he has what it takes to save NYC’s mom and pops?
Images: small business Katz’s (L) and chain store Starbucks (R), via Wiki Commons
Image via nyc.go
“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.” – Jeremiah Moss in today’s Daily News.
With out of control rents, insane land prices, and properties trading hands for tens of millions–if not hundreds of millions–New York has become a playground (and a bank) for the ultra-rich. While most of us complain about the rising the cost of living with little action beyond a grumble, others are far more affected, namely the “mom and pop” shops forced out to make way for high-rent-paying tenants such as Duane Reade, Chase and Starbucks. But all is not lost. The issue of small business survival seems to be gaining some traction, particularly with a new campaign called #SaveNYC launched by Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.