City Council passes retail vacancy registry bill and others aimed at helping mom-and-pop

Il Forno on Second Avenue is one of the many small businesses in the neighborhood that has closed in recent months. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Tuesday, the City Council passed five bills aimed at helping mom-and-pops, including one that would track retail vacancies and information about those spaces’ leasing history.

Each of the bills passed unanimously, with the exception of the vacancy tracking one, which still easily got through with just two objections.

If signed by the mayor, building owners would be required to submit information to the city regarding ground and second floor commercial spaces. The city’s Department of Finance would then establish publicly available data on those commercial properties, disaggregated by council district. Information would include median average duration of leases, the median and average remaining term to lease expiration, the median and average size of rentable floor area, the number of such premises reported as being leased and vacant, the median and average rent, the length of time a property has not been leased as well as construction information, and the number of such premises where the lease is due to expire within two years of the current calendar year. The bill would also require the release of a list of addresses of commercial properties and an indicator of whether or not such properties are vacant.

The legislation’s sponsor, Council Member Helen Rosenthal, said she thought it would go a long way to fighting retail blight.

“Unfortunately, we have witnessed the loss of far too many small businesses in the last several years, leaving only empty storefronts behind,” she said. “My ‘Storefront Tracker’ legislation will require citywide tracking of commercial storefront and second floor spaces for the first time, providing comprehensive data on commercial strips at risk, the location of every vacant storefront, and more. This essential information will be the basis for solutions which help keep small businesses in our communities.”

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated the mayor’s support for Rosenthal’s legislation.

“A vacancy registry is a valuable tool to help address the persistent issue of vacant storefronts across our city,” the rep said, “and we applaud the Council for their attention to this critical issue.”

Another bill aimed at studying the retail industry was sponsored by Council Member Carlina Rivera and would require the city to complete an assessment of storefront businesses in at least 20 commercial districts every three years. This would include issuing a survey to business owners and coordinating with community-based organizations. Results would be published online on the city’s Small Business Services agency’s website. Additionally, the SBS would have to issue a report in coordination with the Department of Finance and City Planning with information like the type of storefront businesses, the number of employees they have, their annual sales and sales tax, the number of vacant storefront businesses as well as district demographics.

A bill sponsored by Council Member Mark Gjonaj would have the city recognize businesses that employ between one and nine employees as a “microbusiness” and track where those businesses are by zip code and industry. Additionally, the SBS would be required to do a study on micro-businesses to identify issues they face, whether it’s e-commerce or challenges getting a lease renewal.

Another bill authored by Gjonaj would have the city produce an online guide aimed at educating small business owners on regulations that apply to their operations. The guide would be regularly updated.

Another bill by Rosenthal would require the SBS to provide small businesses with training on regulatory compliance as well as to help them market themselves, including utilizing e-commerce.

A separate pending Council bill related to retail, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is aimed at getting businesses in good standing an automatic lease renewal, was not among the bills voted on.

This story originally appeared in Real Estate Weekly.

4 thoughts on “City Council passes retail vacancy registry bill and others aimed at helping mom-and-pop

  1. were the city council’s serious about helping small businesses, they would pass formula business zoning Witchwood set aside a certain number of spaces for independent, small businesses that do not formula.(i.e., not chains or franchises). It’s a policy alternative that has ALREADY passed muster with the courts, unlike the Small Business Jobs Protection Act. The city council – always beholden to REBNY as their biggest contributors – have been jerking New Yorkers and small busimesses with the SBJPA “shiny object” for over a generation; it’s lip service, pure and simple.

    Don’t get me wrong. I would like to see SBJPA pass, but I give it a half-life of about 3 years before the courts overturn it. New York’s small businesses would be far better off – and far more certain in their business investment – if the city council would look into adopting a formula business regulation, the same as San Francisco and several other American cities, because formula business zoning has already passed muster in the courts.

    Fact is, nobody in city council even wants to discuss it for fear of offending their contributor base at REBNY.

  2. Maybe someone can explain how these bills are anything more than hot air.

    Maybe someone can also explain why Corey Johnson hasn’t allowed a vote on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.

    • Barry they are less than hot air they are an insult to democracy and to
      desperate small business owners denied economic justice at City Hall.
      All the bill would not save a single small business or job. None give a single right to a small business owner. Even in a growing small business crisis
      REBNY has enough cronies they bought to pass legislation to keep the status quo. Why Johnson has not allowed a vote on Jobs Act, easy he sold out to REBNY to become Speaker just like Quinn and Mark Viverito and de Blasio all did.

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