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.
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.
In January, Town & Village published an editorial in support of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). This was a week after publishing an article reporting on the status of two pieces of pending legislation aimed at helping mom-and-pop shops remain in their spaces, one of which was the SBJSA. Later, this newspaper published an op-ed by Sung Soo Kim that also supported the SBJSA.
The following op-ed is in response to that point of view.
By James R. O’Neill
Town & Village published an op-ed on January 18 regarding the most recent version of “Small Business Jobs Survival Act” (‘Unconstitutional’ claims about SBJSA are real estate propaganda,” by Sung Soo Kim, president, Small Business Congress).
As a commercial real estate agent who lives in the neighborhood, it would be remiss of me not to offer my perspective on a bill that claims to save the mom-and-pop shops but would, in fact, ultimately harm the stores it is trying to protect.
New York City is a city defined by change. Its vitality and ability to thrive have always been a direct result of that change, and it is what will ensure that New York continues to stay ahead of the curve. The misleadingly titled “Small Business Jobs Survival Act” (SBJSA), introduced in June, 2014, would greatly hinder the evolution that has allowed our city to prosper while creating a series of issues for not just the landlords, but also new businesses.
There are several issues with this bill that jump out immediately – in addition to its questionable legality. Speaking very broadly, although this bill’s stated intent is to help small businesses, it seeks to accomplish this by employing methods that are unfair, financially unsound and wholly unnecessary.
Stuyvesant Town’s Associated Supermarket is facing an uncertain future. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sung Soo Kim, President, Small Business Congress
Lawmakers claim proposed legislation will save mom and pop businesses. Small business advocates claim it’s a “Trojan Horse” created by the real estate lobby to keep status quo. Who is right?
For over 30 years I have pleaded with local government to pass legislation protecting our hard working small business owners from profiteers, unscrupulous landlords and greedy speculators. The past decades’ over-speculation in commercial real estate, bidding wars by franchises and banks and manipulation by warehousing storefronts, has wreaked havoc on the commercial rental market. Guided by big real estate campaign contributions, their friends at City Hall have remained silent and done nothing as the American Dream of our small business owners is being destroyed.
At first I was pleased to hear the commitments of Manhattan Borough President Brewer and Council Member Cornegy, to listen to the business owners and to pass legislation to save our businesses. Brewer said, “The mom-and-pop crisis has intensified with a fury.” CM Cornegy acknowledged numerous small and locally-owned businesses that many would describe as New York City institutions were forced to close or relocate as a result of exorbitant rent increases. Both lawmakers’ words sounded very encouraging and offered hope to small business owners who had become indentured servants to their landlords.
But upon analyzing their proposed solution to end this crisis and stop the closing of long established businesses, I have become saddened for the future of our struggling business owners. Their proposal is an insult to the desperate business owners whose survival depends upon fair and just treatment from government’s offering a real solution to end the crisis. The Brewer/Cornegy proposal is no solution in any way and would not save a single small business if passed into law. In fact, their proposal to extend the lease period for one year at 15 percent rent increase, allowing the business more time to find a new location, would, instead, actually help landlords and make the crisis much worse. Rent gouging and oppressive lease abuses are the root of this crisis and their solution addresses neither.
The rent gouging and oppressive lease abuses have been going on for many decades. Many business owners have already been forced to move several times. This gentrification tornado of greed has cut swaths of destruction across many neighborhoods and in every borough. There are no more “safe” locations to move to in NYC, because our government has done nothing to regulate the out of control rents. If a storefront is vacant on a busy main street, it’s because the long established business was forced to close when the landlord refused to accept a fair rent which would have allowed a reasonable profit for the business. I predict that if this weak Brewer/Cornegy proposal is passed, should a business want to stay in their neighborhood, the only choice is to go to another landlord and bid against other local businesses, making the crisis worse.