Rivera announces tools for small businesses

Councilmember Carlina Rivera announced the new tools for small businesses in front of vacant storefronts on East 9th Street last week. (Photos courtesy of Councilmember Rivera’s office)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera joined neighborhood organizations outside vacant storefronts on East 9th Street on Tuesday, July 30 to announce new initiatives to help small businesses in the East Village, including an app that connects residents to local businesses in the neighborhood.

Renaissance EDC, Asian Americans for Equality, Village Alliance, Cooper Square Committee, East Village Community Coalition and the East Village Independent Merchants Association joined Rivera for the announcement that the East Village Revitalization Loan Fund will be offering East Village business owners the opportunity to borrow up to $50,000 with fixed interest rates lower than what small business owners would be able to secure through a normal loan provider. Renaissance EDC is an affiliate of Asian Americans for Equality.

The loans can be used for restocking inventory, purchasing new equipment or furniture, payroll, storefront improvements or renovations, marketing and other typical high-cost capital needs.

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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.

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New ice cream truck to serve up scoops in ST/PCV

Peter Coops Scoops

How sweet it is. The new ice cream truck in town will be operated by Mikey Likes it. (Photos by Thomas Rochford)

By Sabina Mollot

Stuyvesant Town residents who were out and about on the First Avenue Loop on Friday afternoon may have seen the newest vehicle to enter management’s fleet, only this time it’s not a security SUV or contractor club car, but an ice cream truck.

The baby blue and white van, which was parked on the side of the road, has the words, “Peter Coop’s Scoops” and the Peter Cooper logo on its side.

Asked about this, Stuyvesant Town general manager Rick Hayduk said that is really an ice cream truck and it will be open for business in Peter Cooper and Stuy Town (where legally allowed to operate), on June 19. It may also, where allowed, Hayduk stressed, pop up at public events in the city, and it will also appear at another Blackstone-owned property, Kips Bay Court.

The truck is part of Stuy Town Property Services’ recently announced re-branding efforts such as the new, minimalist property logos and last year’s apartment-in-a-box van that drove around the city. It’s being operated independently by Mikey Likes It, an ice cream shop owned by a Stuyvesant Town resident, Michael Cole. The business has a location in the East Village on Avenue A as well as on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem. In exchange for having the ST/PCV wrap as a form of advertising for the property, management gave Mikey Likes It the truck to use.

“We’re not in the ice cream business,” Hayduk clarified.

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Small biz bills called helpful, but not enough

By Sabina Mollot

Last month, members of the City Council introduced a package of bills aimed at helping small businesses. They ranged from creating a registry of vacant retail spaces to having landlords sign a “certificate of no harassment” before getting construction permits to providing training to help small business owners digitally market themselves.

Since then, Town & Village reached out to operators of three local storefront businesses to ask if they thought the bills would help them — and if not, what would.

In response, Carole Husiak, who owns the Ibiza Kidz clothing shop in Stuyvesant Town, said she liked all the bills.

That said, Husiak doesn’t feel the bills address what she considers to have been her biggest problem as a business owner for the past 30 years — real estate taxes.

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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.

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City talks shop as lawmakers move to help mom-and-pops

Ahead of a hearing on several small business bills, City Council members including Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal (pictured with supporters), hold a rally at City Hall. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council is mulling a package of legislation aimed at protecting mom-and-pops that ranges from creating a registry to track storefront vacancies to providing affordable retail spaces at developments where owners collect $1 million or more in subsidies.

On Monday, the bills were debated at a hearing chaired by the City Council Small Businesses Committee Chair Mark Gjonaj, after a rally on the front steps of City Hall.

The piece of legislation that would require the city to maintain a vacancy registry is being sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Carlina Rivera, Ben Kallos and Mark Levine as well as Speaker Corey Johnson. The registry would include the location of the property, the reasons for the vacancy, the owner’s name, contact information for the property and the day it became vacant. Property owners would be expected to register once a property is vacant for more than 90 days. Failure to register would result in a penalty of $1,000 for every week after that.

Another bill, sponsored by Rosenthal and Johnson, would require the city to maintain a database of commercial properties.

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Opinion: Help the SBJSA move forward

The following is an open letter from Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. It has been edited for length.

Honorable Speaker Johnson:

I am disheartened that you refused to respond to my first request to meet and at least try to create compromise legislation to stop the closings of our city’s small businesses and save jobs. I took you at your word made at the October hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act that you recognized a serious crisis existed and that you were committed to a solution and moving the bill (Small Business Jobs Survival Act) to a vote.

It is obvious to every small business owner that the grossly unfair lease renewal process places their futures and the futures of their employees in grave jeopardy when their leases expire. The empty storefronts on every main street make it obvious to every New Yorker that their beloved mom and pop businesses, having no rights nor protections from exorbitant rent increases, are desperate for government intervention to save them.

Putting aside the REBNY, Chambers, SBS and BID spins, false narratives, and insulting studies and fake worthless proposals, the majority of the city’s lawmakers also know their small businesses cannot survive without this legislation that gives rights to business owners in the critical lease renewal process.

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Owner of Flatiron store Fishs Eddy talks shop in nonfiction graphic novel

Julie Gaines chronicles her store’s ups and downs in Minding the Store, which was illustrated by her son, Ben Lenovitz. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Anyone considering opening a small business in New York City, or who simply enjoys frequenting them, may want to check out a new graphic novel on the subject, written by the owner of quirky Flatiron home goods store Fishs Eddy.

Julie Gaines, who opened the shop with her then boyfriend, later husband, Dave Lenovitz, 32 years ago, has written the book, published by Workman (a division of Algonquin) and titled Minding the Store with illustration by her son Ben Lenovitz.

Released on November 29, it’s now available at her store on Broadway (along with other book retailers) for $22, and tells the history of the business through its ups and down from the shuttering of American manufactures that made its dishware to, in recent years, growing competition from online retailers. It was the latter problem that prompted Gaines to hire a CEO to help counter dwindling sales, only to end up feeling even more stressed and eventually undermined by his corporate drill sergeant approach to running a store.

“He actually bullied us,” said Gaines. “That’s what this book is about. He terrorized us.”

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Friends and foes debate SBJSA

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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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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Tailor who owned shop for over 50 years dies

Gino DiGirolamo at his 14th Street shop in 2014 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, March 30, the man known to many as “Gino the tailor,” Gino DiGirolamo, died at the age of 82. The owner of Royal Tailor, which was located in the East Village for 52 years, had suffered a heart attack a month ago that he never recovered from. His son Vito, 51, said his father, after having the heart attack on an L train platform, was taken to Beth Israel, where he stayed for ongoing treatment. He was visited regularly by friends and Vito, but the elder DiGirolamo never regained consciousness.

In an interview with Town & Village three years ago, DiGirolamo, then working out of an East 14th Street shop across from Stuyvesant Town, spoke of his intention to retire after getting socked with a hefty rent increase. He’d been in that space for a few years, after moving from the original shop on Avenue A. However, his livelihood was later saved when he found a nearby affordable space on East 11th Street.

As he had before, DiGirolamo worked long and hard, around 80 hours a week, commuting to the shop from his home in Ozone Park, Queens.

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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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