Opinion: Forget Amazon and help mom and pop

By Kirsten Theodos of Take Back NYC

After the big news that Amazon was canceling its plan to build its new headquarters “HQ2” in Long Island City, activists and local elected officials celebrated it as a victory while others viewed it as a tragic collapse. The biggest complaint has been the loss of 25,000 promised jobs over the next decade.

Meanwhile, on every Main Street in every neighborhood across the city, there are empty storefronts where once-thriving businesses existed. Are supporters of the Amazon deal aware that New York City courts evict 500 businesses every month and over 1,000 are estimated to close every month, mostly due to high rents? Eighty-nine percent of all small businesses in NYC are considered “very small,” meaning they employ less than 20 people. Conservatively using eight as the average, that means New York City loses at least 8,000 jobs every month.

There are people lamenting over potentially having lost 200 new Amazon jobs per month when our city already sheds over 8,000 per month, which the Amazon deal would have exacerbated. And while it is true that online shopping has altered the retail landscape (namely by Amazon itself), it is the unfair lease renewal process that is shuttering our long established small businesses. Just on my block a ramen restaurant, a bike repair shop and pizza place were all forced to close due to an exorbitant rent hike upon their lease renewal, and none of them competed with Amazon.

Small businesses employ more than half of NYC’s private sector workforce. They provide jobs that offer a path to social mobility and in New York City are predominantly immigrant owned. Unlike Amazon’s imported tech bros, small businesses employ actual New Yorkers who live in our communities.

So how about we channel our outrage for only potentially losing 200 high paying jobs a month into outrage for actually losing 8,000 jobs a month for working class New Yorkers?

Let’s ask City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and our Council members why they continue to sit on their hands while a commercial tenants rights bill called the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) that will address the crisis of long established business closings, is still being blocked by the real estate lobby from reaching the floor for a vote?

Every elected official echoes the sentiment that “small businesses are the backbone of our economy” and that is true. So why won’t our government give our economic backbone the same priority and attention that it gave to the world’s richest man?

When small businesses thrive, they create more jobs that will contribute to our city and state’s tax revenues.  Let’s not cry over what could have been with Amazon; let’s stop the bleeding of 8,000 jobs every month in New York City and demand our City Council pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

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19 thoughts on “Opinion: Forget Amazon and help mom and pop

  1. Great insight , to answer your question of why our self proclaimed progressive lawmakers sit on their hands and “do nothing” to save our small businesses and the jobs they created, while jumping thru hoops to get new businesses to open, follow the money. The money from campaign donations from REBNY and friends, and the money from building in this real estate
    speculative market. Every building built is money for politicians and middle men needed in the approval process. Billions coming into NYC from around the world to split up. Small Business owners are victims of this speculation. A crisis with a solution ( Jobs Survival Act ) but no political will to save them. Sad

    • Correct! Precisely why City hall should just go ahead and rename itself to REBNY HALL! Also, the number of closings under De Blasio is 1,100-1,200 per month and a loss of approximately 115,000 jobs per year on every main street, every commercial strip everywhere, in all five boroughs! http://www.saveNYCjobs.org for facts!

  2. Not sure that SBJPA will achieve the intended goal of protecting small businesses. All SBJPA does is require negotiations. (For those of us who are always circumspect of the motivations of politicians, it might be mere lip service to small businesses by officials whose principal constiuency is the deep pocket donors of REBNY).

    IMHO,a better tool to help small businesses is Formula Business Zoning, which limits the number of chain businesses that can occupy a particular commercial zoning tract. The courts have upheld it in other states.

    What FBZ does is shift the demand curve for rental properties lower (because Walgreens, Chase, Starbucks, etc. cant rent more than a small number of spaces) and lower rents for non-chain businesses.

    Of course, the prices for chain store leases increases, but the benefits of locally-owned, locally-operated businesses, by comparison, are well known.

    Small business people put their heart and soul into their businesses; they’re invested, not only with their time and money, but their support for community-based organizations like Little League, local police and firehouses and community charities and causes.

    Chain store workers are paid the same “whether they march or fight”. If their businesses fail, they’re on to the next thing at another store or over at a competitor. And the same with their owners. Didn’t make your numbers over three quarters? No worries! Close up shop and leave an empty store front with a dirty sidewalk and filthy gutter; rats and roaches, too.

    Small business owners will move heaven and earth to stay in the marketplace. They’ll change up their wares, offer discounts, open longer hours – anything – everything – to stay in business, make their nut, and stay open.

    New Yorkers benefit from the the work, the spirit, and the investment of local entrepreneurs in our communities. New York’s elected officials should step up, big time, and ensure they have the “six” of these these everyday heroes.

      • Quite familiar with “the facts”, thank you.
        I suspect that it is you who is unfamiliar with Formula Business Zoning, a policy adopted by San Francisco and other localities to save small businesses, and who ignorantly calls zoning a “REBNY silly program” when it is the law of the city, who is not.

    • Zoning has nothing to do with commercial lease renewals . It only applies to NEW leases and would not help a single established business when their leases expire. Second point is zoning is good if done before a district is overrun with chains and banks . NYC is 15-20 years to late because banks and chains are on every corner already and in fact in many shopping strip its the banks and chains closing up not opening up. The statement that all SBJSA requires negotiation is dead wrong, you did not read the bill or you would never have made this wrong statement. It gives the right to renewal a 10 year lease to commercial tenants and the arbitration is binding . read the bill

      • I’ve read the bill, and more than once. I regret the short-hand reference, but it is ultimately, again, simply a negotiation. Yes, from a better position for the lessee than my shorthand would indicate, but still simply a negotiation.

        SBJPA is also unproven and untried. It is, ultimately, a form of commercial rent control whereby the arbitrator takes the role of the rent guidelines board and replaces the marketplace. Except commercial tenants, and their landlords – who are unlikely to ever agree – will simply be bound by the luck of the draw on an arbitrator.

        Formula Business Zoning alters the entire economic landscape for commercial leases and does not at all, as you incorrectly say, “only apply to new leases”.

        If you familiarize yourself with FBZ,you will see that it, not the SBJPA, is a better option, particularly for small businesses. It’s also a proven method, having been adopted – and having survived court challenges – in multiple jurisdictions throughout the country. (Yes, I know attorneys have opined to say SBJPA will survive a court challenge, but until it goes before a court, you can never say for sure.)

        Finally, there is nothing to prevent FBZ and SBJPA from working in tandem, though I suspect FBZ would make the latter unnecessary.

  3. DeBlasio totally owned by REBNY shows no interest in the plight of the small business owners. Congratulations to those who chased the scoundrel and his heliport out of town.
    SBJSA is an important start to helping those who put their whole life into making our communities into neighborhoods.

  4. Thank you T&V for publishing my op-ed. For the record, like his REBNY predecessor, CM Keith Powers is the only Manhattan Council Member who does not support the SBJSA. He also does not have a plan of his own to address sky high rents therefore being compliant in a time of crisis. Please remember that in 2021.

  5. It was REBNY and the ‘connected’ developers on LIC whose insider trading speculation was given a head start for Amazon’s HQ2 . Engaged activists turned that misbegotten invasion around-much to the chagrin of deBlasio’s and Cuomo’s pay-to-play pals ready to score big.

    And it’s these same folks with their ‘thumbs on the scale’-namely REBNY and John Banks whose greed and short-sightedness allow them to squeeze out the more than 64% immigrant owners of Mom and Pop small businesses that give our neighborhoods their character, charm and convenience. These are the folks that keep people employed…people who live here -our friends, families and neighbors-yes these are the real ‘job creators’.

    While it’s no surprise that white collar welfare has never met an ‘opportunity” it doesn’t exploit, New Yorkers do not accept that our paid employees-the City Council Members-are evading their responsibilities. We will not sit idly by and allow REBNY-the SBS and the landlord run BIDs to steamroll over our city with usurious schemes to evict, overcharge and harass vulnerable store & business owners.

    What Speaker Johnson, who talks a good game has yet to realize, is that he is fooling no one…and while he continues to stall on putting the SBJSA Bill on the floor for a vote, he is beginning to be perceived just like that other ‘progressive’ hypocrite -the pontificating Mayor-as an inept steward of real hands-on values and justice.

    New Yorkers are waiting for Speaker Johnson to step up to this moral imperative and we are closely watching.

  6. One hundred percent correct: om & pop stores, jobs-providing manufacturers struggling to afford industrial spaces, and working artists all desperately need the SBJSA. And believe it or not, saving hundreds if not thousands of NYC jobs can be done WITHOUT billions of taxpayer dollars going to the richest man in the world: just give commercial renters in NYC a shot at lease fairness, and the real NYC economy, the one that bubbles along at a community level, will have a chance to thrive.

  7. Formula business zoning has been adopted to good effect from San Francisco to Jersey City and multiple points in between. It has been challenges in the courts in multiple jurisdictions and held a valid exercise of municipal zoning laws.

    In Jersey City, where it was adopted in 2015, the mayor says it has sparked a downtown renaissance where once vacant store fronts – held in inventory by landlords holding out for the high rents paid by chain businesses – are now occupied by local entrepreneurs and are thriving.

    https://ilsr.org/rule/formula-business-restrictions/

  8. BB
    March 22, 2019 at 3:00 am
    City Council Speaker Corey Johnson should have the SBJSA brought to a vote, as is, or
    with acceptable tweaks that were said to be needed too many months ago when the bill was
    finally brought up for discussion to the credit of Speaker Johnson. However, every day, every
    week, every month that our City Council does not act is a terrible blow to our small mom and pop businesses. Vacant storefronts on our streets throughout our city are not something to be proud of. Our elected officials can do better. They need to act now, not next week, not next month, not next year, but now!

  9. We need to put pressure on the electeds to vote on and pass the SBJSA. This legislation has been around for many years, but now would seem like an opportune moment to finally get it done. If nothing else, it will help to level the playing field between small businesses and landlords. And with the financialization of business leases ocurring at an ever increasing pace, it’s critically important for small businesses to obtain some leverage now!

  10. I wholeheartedly agree with everything Ms. Theodus has stated in “Opinion: Forget Amazon and help mom and pop.”

    The reason the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) has been stymied for 33 years is because of the opposition of REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York). As Ms. Theodus points out, because commercial tenants have no rights during lease renewal, thousands of our mom and pop stores and other small businesses which give our neighborhoods character, are price gouged out of existence every year. This has led to the annual loss of tens of thousands of local jobs these businesses provide which are the backbone of a vibrant, stable economy.

    Readers of Town & Village should also understand that it is the economic policies and political machinations of the billionaire developers, landlords and property speculators who run REBNY that are at the root cause of hyper-gentrification and the attacks on any form of rent stabilization and rent control.

    Rob Speyer, President and CEO of real estate company Tishman Speyer, headed REBNY for five years before Bill Rudin took over in 2018. Bill Rudin is the real estate tycoon who turned St. Vincent’s Hospital into a billion dollar condo, just what the community didn’t need.

    Tishman Speyer, headed by Rob and his father Jerry Speyer who also formally chaired REBNY, illegally deregulated thousands of rent stabilized apartments in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in an unsuccessful scheme to steal millions of dollars from 27,000 tenants and to quickly turn apartments in the complexes into high-priced condominiums. They did this despite raking in millions of dollars in J-51 tax abatements to provide affordable housing. In my opinion, both Rob and Jerry should have ended up in prison for criminal activity.

    I hope Town & Village readers will join the fight to put an end to the dominance REBNY bullies and racketeers have over NYC and NYS politics and to help stop their running roughshod over the 99%.

    I urge Town & Village readers to contact City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office. Here’s a question to pose to Speaker Johnson: “Why don’t you want the city’s major job creators, the tens of thousands of small businesses, to have rights when their leases expire?”

    Also readers should let Speaker Johnson know that if he wants their support in his run for mayor he better keep the full intent of the SBJSA intact and put the bill to a vote ASAP. Call his Legislative Office at (212) 788-6979 or his District Office at (212) 564-7757 or email him at: District3@council.nyc.gov

    For more information, please visit http://www.stopREBNYbullies.org…Ray Rogers, Campaign to Stop REBNY Bullies…718-852-2808

  11. J.G. Collins-Who are your clients? If not specifics, what types? Inquiring minds want to know.

    BTW, Keith Powers worked a lobbyist for Vallone.
    As per his official bio: “Keith also worked for former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr.”

    Vallone Sr. and Anthony Weiner, like Pataki and Bruno (NYS), were the NYC components that supported residential apartment vacancy decontrol which destroyed PCVST and will eventually destroy all RS apartments.

    • No clients in REBNY, if that is your point. Mostly domestic commercial businesses, foreign companies, financial press, investment funds (without respect to real estate), and PR clients.

      So who pays your salary? “Inquiring minds want to know” before you, as a private citizen, make obnoxious public commentary questioning people’s motives. So, tell us whose names are on your W-2 or Forms 1099? If not the businesses themselves, what types?

      Because from now on, before you can post commentary about an issue you know well that is entirely UNRELATED to your business interests, the Soviet-style standards of some NYC Leftists demands that you be vetted before exercising your First Amendment rights.

      People like you – invasive and obnoxious, now fully empowered by a similarly far Leftist legislature are why I cannot wait to get out of Soviet-style New York, a city I once loved.

  12. Small businesses are the life’s blood of our communities. They provide necessary services, jobs, and they are our neighbors. There has been a systematic, wholesale transformation of New York into a reserve of the obscenely wealthy and the barely here—a place increasingly devoid of the idiosyncrasy, the complexity, the opportunity, and the roiling excitement that make a city great. As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring. Small businesses add a vibrancy to our communities that is slowly being drained away and being replaced by soulless chain stores.

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