Earlier this month, Town & Village interviewed three local business owners to ask their thoughts on a package of legislation aimed at helping mom-and-pops.
One of those business owners was Natasha Amott, whose business, kitchen supply shop Whisk has three locations, one on Broadway in Flatiron, and two in Brooklyn, one in Williamsburg and the other in Brooklyn Heights. While the three shops have no shortage of loyal customers, Amott told Town & Village on Friday that the Williamsburg location on Bedford will be closing at the end of the month after 10 years due to an astronomical rise in rent. Currently $18,452, the landlord asked for a 44 percent increase that would have brought it up to $26,500. Such asking rents have become the norm in a neighborhood that, like so many others in the city, have been zeroed in on by chains.
Amott explained her decision to close in a “love letter” to customers, while also telling T&V via email, “This is NOT a story of a small business that could not survive the growth of online retailers. This is a story of a tremendously successful little business in a neighborhood that has become overrun with national and multinational chains, often supported by private equity, who choose to pay high rents as an advertising investment to grow their brand. The commercial banking system to underwrite mortgages on this land has often demanded these high rent rolls. And the small landlords – like Whisk’s – are now able to benefit too from these inflated market rents.”
In addition to the Brooklyn closure, there has also been a “For Rent” sign in the window of the Manhattan store.
We try not to sound like a broken record in this column, but we can’t help but think this is a situation where the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would have allowed the commercial tenant the ability to negotiate a renewal through mediation and if necessary, arbitration, might have saved the store.
The SBJSA last saw some action six months ago when the City Council held a hearing on October 22. A spokesperson for the bill’s prime sponsor Ydanis Rodriguez has said at this point the ball is in Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s court to set a new hearing. Johnson was out of town on vacation and a spokesperson didn’t have an answer when Town & Village called to ask if there were plans for another hearing or vote.
However, the spokesperson issued a statement saying, “Passing legislation to address the small business crisis is one of the speaker’s top priorities. The City Council is working on several legislative proposals such as the SBJSA that would provide critical protections for small businesses, which are closing at alarming rates across the city.”
The speaker hasn’t yet said if he is getting behind the bill. Johnson’s rep went on to note the legislative package recently introduced by the Council that includes a proposal to create a storefront vacancy registry that landlords must keep updated or face a fine of up to $1,000 a week.
We of course hope something is done soon with the SBJSA, specifically a vote. While some members of the City Council are wringing their hands over the plight of mom-and-pops while also delaying said vote – opponents have been referring to it as commercial rent control — the city’s remaining independent stores are continuing to be priced out by speculative landlords. At this rate, by the time the Council is finally done debating the issue — it’s already been over 30 years for this bill — there may not be any small businesses left to save.