All across the city, we are seeing the character and spirit of our neighborhoods being destroyed by hyper real estate speculation pushing out longtime established small businesses. Amazon cannot be blamed for all of the closings. A year ago, 41-year-old Cornelia Street Café was forced to close because of an exorbitant rent hike.
The Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) would have saved them by giving commercial tenants rights to renew their leases and negotiate reasonable terms. In a recent interview, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer made clear in her view the SBJSA shouldn’t apply to all commercial leases. Her argument is weak, that the “unintended consequences” of the bill would be including “white shoe law firms” and “financial institutions.”
Even if a business is a hedge fund, it should not be excluded from protection from unscrupulous landlords. Carving out specific types of businesses from the bill is discrimination and would certainly be legally challenged. After years of broken promises to save Mom & Pop, it is unclear why she is back on the small business beat and weighing in on this now.
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.
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.
Stuyvesant Town’s Associated Supermarket (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Last week, following an op-ed being published in the newspaper The Villager in support of the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, many Stuyvesant Town residents became alarmed after reading a sentence that mentioned the owner of the complex’s Associated supermarket was told he would not get a lease renewal.
Town & Village since reached out to Blackstone, and a spokesperson for the landlord, Paula Chirhart, said a final decision on whether to renew or not has not yet been made. Joseph Falzon, a co-owner of The Associated, confirmed this when we called although he added he wasn’t feeling confident that he’d get a renewal. He added that he was “99 percent sure” he wouldn’t.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduces her bill at a press conference in March.
By Sabina Mollot
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has promised to make 2016 the year of the mom-and-pop shop.
Nine months after proposing new legislation she believes will throw a lifeline to small businesses forced out of their premises by steep rent increases, Brewer said she now considers it priority.
“It’s definitely imminent. Robert Cornegy, the chair of the small businesses committee, has been trying to carve out the best possible bill,” said the borough president, who has been holding roundtables with proprietors of small businesses over the past several months.
The legislation has been likened to a bill that’s collected dust at City Hall for about 30 years called the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act (SBJSA).
Brewer has faced criticism for not supporting the SBJSA but she insists it is a folly that would never be passed by the City Council. Critics, including the Real Estate Board of New York, have blasted SBJSA as being unconstitutional.
REBNY President John Banks, said, “For nearly four centuries, the one constant about New York City has been that it is always changing. The city’s dynamism, in part, is driven by its ever-changing population, building stock and mix of businesses. Understandably, some don’t like change. However, such feelings don’t justify unconstitutional legislation like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.”