Editorial: Amazonian giveaway to a giant

After months of speculation on where Amazon would decide to hold court, the online retail giant finally announced the locations of its headquarters, which will be split in two cities: Crystal City, Virginia and Long Island City in New York.

It didn’t take long before City Hall and nearly every politician in town crowed about Amazon’s promise to make at least 25,000 hires  in positions paying an average of $150,000, after being promised up to $2.2 billion in state and city giveaways. Of course good-paying jobs are a benefit to New Yorkers. However, we still can’t help but feel the city has really turned its back on small businesses this time.

As the long-stalled effort to get the Small Business Jobs Survival Act passed proves, no one is afraid to parrot the real estate industry’s argument that the demise of mom-and-pops has more to do with online shopping than exorbitant rent. At the hearing for the SBJSA, a representative of the city’s Small Business Services agency argued against the bill, warning of “unintended consequences” like landlords being more hesitant to lease to small businesses.

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Friends and foes debate Small Business Jobs Survival Act

Supporters of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act rally prior to a long-awaited City Council hearing. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, the City Council chamber was packed with small business advocates, real estate professionals and others with an interest in the first step taken to move the now 32-year-old Small Business Jobs Survival Act in nearly a decade.

At a lengthy hearing, those in support of the bill, aimed at getting businesses an automatic 10-year lease renewal, through mediation and binding arbitration if necessary, carried signs that said things like “Pass Intact SBJSA Now” and “Evict REBNY.” Those against it wore blue caps that read, “Vote no commercial rent control.”

The hearing followed a rally in support of the SBJSA led by David Eisenbach, a Columbia professor who heads a group called the Friends of the SBJSA.

Eisenbach compared the fight for the bill’s passage to “a battle for the soul of New York. Will it be a New York of chains or a New York of Chinatown? It’s David against Goliath.”

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T&V Editorials, Oct. 4

Amazon can’t rescue your parakeet

This week, Town & Village would like to acknowledge one of the many ways that independent, owner-run businesses, as opposed to employee-run chains, can benefit the community.

Along with helping to keep any money spent by neighborhood residents in the same neighborhood and having knowledgeable people around to answer questions instead of clueless kids telling customers to call corporate, they are also generally fiercely loyal to the communities they serve.

A perfect example of this Carole Husiak. Husiak and her husband Johnny own Ibiza Kidz, the children’s store that only reopened last Friday after the electrical fire over three weeks ago in Stuyvesant Town.

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SBJSA will finally get Council hearing

Sept27 closed Loop

Loop restaurant on Third Avenue in Gramercy closed over the summer. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which has existed in some for over 30 years, will finally be getting the hearing its advocates have been pushing for.

According to the Small Business Congress, possibly the bill’s most vocal supporter, the City Council’s Small Business Committee will be holding a hearing on October 22 at 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, the SBC and others who’ve been pushing for the bill’s passage, as well as its opponents in the real estate industry, have expressed some pessimism over how the bill will be debated. In the case of the former, it’s over a belief that the bill is just going to get watered down, and in the case of the latter, over the argument that the bill is illegal.

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Opinion: Request for study on SBJSA

The following is an open letter to Public Advocate Letitia James from Sung Soo Kim, founder of The Small Business Congress. The letter has been edited for length.   

Honorable Public Advocate James:

Recently, Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez as prime sponsor reintroduced the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. This bill has the same language, word for word, as the one you proudly sponsored and championed at times in 2009, 2010 and 2014 as Public Advocate. It’s the same bill that you touted over the year’s at citywide events as the best solution to stop the closing of our small businesses and end their crisis and address the “Malling of Main Street.”

The new speaker of the Council, Corey Johnson, has pledged a public hearing on the bill, as well as finding a real solution to end the crisis. While small business advocates applaud this commitment, we are cautiously guarded in hoping our city’s small businesses finally, after eight long years, receive evenhanded and just treatment at City Hall.

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SBJSA advocates rally for hearing

Council Member Carlina Rivera with with the bill’s supporters and its prime sponsor Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez at her left (Photo courtesy of Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez)

By Sabina Mollot

Small business activists are actively pushing for a hearing of the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, which was reintroduced in the City Council in March under a new prime sponsor, Ydanis Rodriguez.

Representatives from various pro-SBJSA groups attended a hearing on the steps of City Hall last Wednesday, along with Rodriguez and fellow Council Member Carlina Rivera. Additionally, the coalition has continued to reach out to small businesses across the five boroughs as well as those who enjoy patronizing them, encouraging email to their local member of Council.

Harry Bubbins, East Village and special projects director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said hundreds of email forms to council members were sent through the GVSHP’s website. Additionally, since the bill was reintroduced, 12 council members have signed on as sponsors.

“They are responding to their local constituents as well as the needs of the city, the obvious crisis of retail spaces in the city,” Bubbins said.

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Rivera talks SBJSA, homelessness, L train shutdown and 14th St. tech hub

Council Member Carlina Rivera speaks about a “21st century” version of the SBJSA as well as other issues at an event at Almond in Flatiron, hosted by the Union Square and Flatiron BIDs. (Pictured) Rivera with NY1 reporter Michael Scotto (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke with NY1 reporter Michael Scotto in an event at Almond Restaurant in Flatiron at the end of March, focusing on small businesses, the upcoming L train shutdown, homelessness and the planned tech hub for Union Square.

The event was a community breakfast hosted by two neighborhood BIDs, the Union Square Partnership and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership.

As she previously mentioned in a roundtable with Town & Village, Rivera said that she supports a “21st-century version” of the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, clarifying further at the recent breakfast that she partially meant taking online shopping into consideration.

“We need to consider how we shop, but we also need to consider that the piece of legislation we introduce, as of last term, was 20 years old,” she said. “The way we’ve shopped has changed dramatically in 20 years so I think giving the small business owner the ability to negotiate is important. (The 21st-century version) is taking into consideration mixed-use buildings, and making sure that Small Business Services does a better job at marketing the resources they have available, along with the Department of Consumer Affairs.”

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SBJSA gets new sponsor in Council

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez

By Sabina Mollot

The Small Business Jobs and Survival Act is getting a new lease on life, or at least, a new sponsor.

Earlier this month, Steve Barrison, an advocate of the legislation and executive vice president of the Small Business Congress, explained that as of the new year, the bill was “dead” as it was without a prime sponsor. This is because its last sponsor, Annabel Palma, was term-limited out. However, last Thursday, the bill was reintroduced by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez of Upper Manhattan, although there was no hearing held. Rodriguez was previously the legislation’s secondary sponsor so becoming prime sponsor was, while not automatic, an expected move, a spokesperson for Rodriguez told us this week.

The rep, Stephanie Miliano, added that the Council member supports it due to the citywide problem of mom-and-pops being ousted by landlords hoping for higher-rent paying chains and banks. Abusive landlords were another reason. “We have to make sure tenants have some protections,” said Miliano.

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SBJSA advocates fear Council will vote to weaken legislation

Mar8 Future Bank of America

Four storefronts on 23rd Street at the corner of Fifth Avenue will soon become a Bank of America. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The Small Business Congress, which has been pushing hard for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, is on the offensive, preparing for possible mutations of the bill in the City Council that the SBC fears would render it useless.

Steve Barrison, an attorney and the executive vice president of the SBC, is saying despite new Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s assertions that he wants to see the long-blocked legislation get a hearing, the Devil will be in the details of what Barrison expects will become “a REBNY bill.”

In an email earlier this week, the Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim stated that he is seeking exactly 26 volunteers to convince the Council members who do not support the bill to change their minds.

It may not be easy, though, since technically the SBJSA is dead, Barrison said. This is because the prime sponsor had been Annabel Palma of the Bronx who was term-limited on December 31, 2017.

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Editorial: Hold that hearing any day now

The recent statements made by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson about wanting to see the Small Business Jobs Survival Act get a hearing, after being blocked for many years, should be encouraging news to anyone who owns a small business or enjoys patronizing them.

In this column, we’ve shared our support for this piece of legislation, which is aimed at getting commercial tenants an automatic lease extension when it’s time to renew despite some unexplained claims that it’s unconstitutional.

What we are asking now though is that the SBJSA finally get that hearing.

If council members continue to just talk about it (or not) then we really don’t see how they aren’t willfully ignoring the systematic annihilation of mom-and-pop shops.

What we don’t need is another study on why storefronts are vacant. We know perfectly well why. Amazon, while a game changer for sure, isn’t solely responsible for murdering brick and mortar stores. Astronomical rents and warehousing of retail spaces by speculative owners are still the biggest problems.

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Opinion: How NYC Dems turned their backs on immigrant-owned businesses

By Sung Soo Kim

For the first time in over a century, NYC as the Gateway to America for immigrants to achieve the American Dream has been closed.  All of the centuries of risk, hard work and scarifies made leading to success for immigrant business owners is being destroyed. The greatest transfer of wealth from hard working successful entrepreneurs to speculators and profiteers has taken place in NYC over the past two decades.

The Democratic Party is fully responsible for this historic destruction of our city’s diverse capitalistic economy.  In the face of a growing economic crisis, they have willingly joined in “rigging the system” with the big real estate lobby (REBNY) to deny any real solution to save our mom and pop businesses, the majority of which are owned by immigrants who employ immigrant families.

Thirty four years ago myself, along with several Korean business leaders began a campaign to recruit Korean families to invest their life savings in opening small businesses in NYC.  To calm their fears of crime, drugs and clashes of cultures in some communities, I founded, along with a few Korean business leaders, The Korean American Small Business Services Center, to help them start their businesses and be present at all times to deal with their problems. Korean families came by the thousands to risk everything in NYC. I was not prepared for the biggest challenge they would face nor had I any idea it would be caused by our own democratic government.

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Real estate attorney running for City Council

Erin Hussein (Photos courtesy of Erin Hussein)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Real estate attorney Erin Hussein, a candidate for City Council, said that she was motivated to join the race because she’s invested in her neighborhood, the East Village.

“I’m running for District 2 because of District 2,” she said. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and it’s been intertwined with my entire life.”

Hussein, a Democrat, is running to replace term-limited City Councilmember Rosie Mendez. She moved to the city for college in 1988 after growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut. While New York is a bigger city, Hussein said she sees neighborhoods that make up the communities as similar to small towns like hers.

“Cities are organisms,” she said. “It’s a collection of neighborhoods, a collection of people. But we’re becoming less focused on people and more focused on buildings, and on the very wealthy elites.”

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Former Mendez aide running to replace her in City Council

Former Rosie Mendez aide Carlina Rivera in Madison Square Park (Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera)

Former Rosie Mendez aide Carlina Rivera in Madison Square Park (Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Life-long Lower East Side resident Carlina Rivera has been involved in local politics since as young as age 12, so it should come as no surprise that her next move is running for City Council. Until recently, Rivera was the legislative director for Councilmember Rosie Mendez, and she left the position to focus on running to fill the seat in District 2 that Mendez will vacate this year due to term limits.

Rivera’s introduction to politics at such a young age was thanks to tenant advocate Marie Christopher, who lived on the first floor of her building on Stanton Street when she was growing up.

“She was an amazing tenant advocate, always pushing issues of public safety and preservation of NYCHA,” Rivera said of Christopher, who died in 2013. “She brought me to my first community council meeting. She knew that the community was an ecosystem, and she knew the importance of working with elected officials but also holding them accountable.”

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Help for mom and pop lies in pending legislation

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Recently, a couple of City Council members proposed ideas on ways to combat “high rent blight” and promote retail diversity, or at least, keep the city from completely getting overtaken by chains.

This was at a hearing where the council members’ ideas, such as putting legislative restrictions on chain stores and imposing penalties on landlords who warehouse storefronts, were shot down by city planners.

According to the planners, as Town & Village previously reported, many stores that appear to be chains are actually individually owned franchises and as for lengthy retail vacancies, sometimes, the planners argued, they are not necessarily intentional on the part of property owners.

Meanwhile, a few legislators, including Council Member Robert Cornegy, the small business committee chair who’d chaired the aforementioned hearing on September 30, have come up with some legislative ideas to deal with the problem already.

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Another Council candidate enters race, raising $170G

Marti Speranza, City Council candidate and co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club, pictured at Madison Square Park Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Marti Speranza, City Council candidate and co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club, pictured at Madison Square Park (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The most recent person to enter the City Council race for the seat currently occupied by Dan Garodnick is Marti Speranza, a former city employee and the co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club.

Speranza, a 40-year-old NoMad neighborhood resident, is so far the only woman Democrat in the race. Another female candidate, Peter Cooper Village’s Diane Grayson, is running as an Independent.

Other candidates are Democrats Keith Powers and Jeff Mailman. As T&V first reported, former candidate Joshua Thompson dropped out of the Council race in May and is now running for mayor.

For Speranza, fundraising for the Council campaign has been in the works since April and just last week, she stepped down from her job as director at Women Entrepreneurs (WE) NYC, a new city initiative, to focus on the race.

So far things seem to be going well for Speranza, who announced that she raised $169,706 by the filing date last week, a fundraising record for the first filing of a Council race. She now has over $170,000. The record was previously held by Council Member Corey Johnson, who’d raised $166,000. Speranza also said this was the first time a woman candidate got $100,000 in contributions in the first filing. Of that campaign cash, 52 percent of those donating it are women and 72 percent gave $250 or less, she said. None were real estate developers or lobbyists.

On being the only female Democrat in the race, Speranza pointed out that at this time, because of term limits faced by members of the City Council, the number of female representatives out of over 50 could potentially drop to just nine.

“I do feel that more women need to step up to the plate and run for these seats,” she said.

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