OPINION: New biz bills don’t address closings’ cause

BY SHARON WOOLUMS | On March 18, the City Council’s Small Business Committee held a hearing on nine bills that Mark Gjonaj, the committee’s chairperson, claims would help struggling small businesses.

This was the largest number of bills submitted at any one time to “help” small businesses. Meanwhile, lawmakers in all boroughs are hosting forums and community boards are holding meetings to address “high-rent blight” and the resultant empty stores. Will something finally be done for mom-and-pop merchants facing a crisis to survive — or is this just political theater to appease an angry public?

Having written about this issue for six years, I conclude that common sense would have to agree with the economists: First, stop the store closings before focusing on new programs or encouraging new businesses to open. Last year, New York City recorded 413 commercial court evictions each month! Because legal costs and short-term leases don’t justify the expense, the majority of businesses do not fight it out in court, resulting in 1,200 to 1,300 closures each month.

Activists led by Marni Halasa recently plastered the “graveyard” of empty storefronts along Bleecker St. with posters urging City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to put a moratorium on eviction of mom-and-pop shops until the Small Business Jobs Survival Act is finally passed.

If a new initiative works and one business opens but three close, that’s not progress! If our government can’t address the root cause of the closures of successful long-established businesses — what chance will new businesses have when their leases expire?

Prime sponsors of these new bills were asked two questions: “Do you consider your bill a substitute for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act?” and “As a sponsor of the S.B.J.S.A., will the introduction of these bills cause you to no longer support the S.B.J.S.A.?”

All answered “No” to both, except Chairperson Gjonaj, who made it clear he is not a sponsor of the S.B.J.S.A. In what may come as a surprise to Villagers, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, once a proud sponsor of the S.B.J.S.A., removed his name from it before becoming speaker.

Johnson made good on his word that the Council would hold a hearing on the long-delayed bill — but it’s now already six months since that hearing occurred.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera said she is looking forward to these bills, and that the S.B.J.S.A. is also being considered for a full Council vote as soon as possible.

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, though still a supporter, said, “Its passage has been delayed for years by the Council’s strong concern that S.B.J.S.A. would not survive a legal challenge.”

Indeed, in 2009, then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn blocked a vote on the S.B.J.S.A. — which was sure to pass — with a bogus legal roadblock that was later proven false.

Sung Soo Kim is New York City’s leading small business authority and drafter of the S.B.J.S.A. Asked if he believed any of these bills would really “help” small businesses, Kim said, “In my 30 years advocating for small businesses, I can state with confidence this reality: The absolute essential component of any law to stop the closing of businesses is giving tenants the right to renewal of the lease, without which all proposals will fail and all independent owners in New York City will eventually be forced to close.”

The S.B.J.S.A. would give commercial tenants the right to mediation and, if needed, binding arbitration to negotiate fair lease-renewal rents with their landlords.

At the June 2009 hearing on the Jobs Survival Act  — which, with 32 sponsors, was assured of passing — David Yassky, the then-chairperson of the Small Business Committee, made a statement that summed up the dire situation.

“I believe that we absolutely have to do something. Period,” he said. “It’s not an option to do nothing. … We cannot allow them to be pushed to the point of disappearance, which is what is happening now.”

For nine years, our city’s government has done exactly that — nothing! These bills are just a continuation of the do-nothing policy, as in, “doing nothing over and over again and expecting different results.” Which, economists and common sense agree, is insane!


16 Responses to OPINION: New biz bills don’t address closings’ cause

  1. How many worthless initiatives or fake studies can the REBNY controlled Speakers Office cook up to go ol the public they

    Want to stop the small businesses closing? If lawmakers were sincere they would vote legislation giving business owners RIGHTS to survive.

  2. Thanks to The Villager for not simply regurgitating the Council Member talking points about the “merit” of these bills like everything else I have read. The truth is, in January the city did it’s own study and found the #1 challenge our nightlife owners face — 87% said high rents and none of the 9 bills comes even close to addressing this. There is no will at City Hall to save our businesses.

  3. "the #1 challenge our nightlife owners face" — yes, pass the SBJSA and you'll be sure to have more clubs and bars for longer and longer in your neighborhood. They can be bad neighbors, and you'll still be stuck with them forever. How's that a good thing? Be careful what you wish for.

  4. Yes, this is New York City, run by REBNY. What is happening here is very similar to the death of the small towns in the Midwest as Walmart and the super grocery stores/ malls moved in. The little guys could not compete against extraordinary odds. So the main streets are now dark and depopulated along with the restaurants and street life. The young move out as soon as possible for better opportunities elsewhere. Some even come to NYC. We don't have many Walmarts, but we do have Amazon, Amazon eveyrthing, Amazon doesn't pay any U.S. taxes or rents in the City. Who needs stores when you have Amazon? Now the big A is doing their own grocery stores, dinner deliveries. You don't need humans anymore, just your computer. If you become homeless, the Mayor sends you to New Jersey.
    It's the same old story, who owns the land rules. Control the story, buy the press. All you need to do to verify is to take a walk around Greenwich Village, better do it soon. before the White Horse disappears ……..

    • But supporters of the [S?]BJSA will say that online buying is not the reason that retail is suffering. They're wrong, but you're not helping them. You are correct about ownership, however, and supporters of small businesses have been terribly negligent in regard to real solutions. They'd rather bitch and moan than take action.

      Jane Jacobs gave a great speech in 2000, receiving the Scully Prize, where is focused on the need for not-for-profits, support organizations, etc. to buy buildings, so that non-REBNY folks could have some control over retail diversity. She knew what she was talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA902O1l-dc

  5. During the last six months since the City Council first began debating the passing of a bill (the SBJSA) to rescue our small businesses from rent gouging and death at lease renewal time, I've seen my favorite stationary store close, a little pastry shop I love shuttered, my favorite bodaga abandoned, the Cornelia Street Cafe destroyed. And along 6th Avenue from 8th Street down, a virtual ghost town of empty stores has emerged like an urban cancer. Ignoring cancer is not advisable. Nor is taking snakeoil to save our struggling little businesses, which Councilmen Gjonaj's touted "nine bills" surely is. Yes, Mr Sung Soo Kim of the Small Business Congress, who for dacades has fought for the passage of this Small Business Survival Act and knows more abut this than anyone else in New York, sees Councilmen Gjonaj's basket of supposed helpful legisation as an illusion — indeed, a pernicious fog. For years, Sharon Woolums has been pointing out this whole, sad, dismal situation in her unsparing, ujrgent journalism. Please! Pass the SBJSA intact immediately. We can't take much more of this death by a thousand cuts, slashing away the charished uniqueness of our city

  6. Small businesses are closing for the same reason that middle-class people are being displaced. Too many people are bidding for too little space, which drives rent up until the wealthiest price everyone else out. Unless we create more space by allowing taller buildings, we're treating symptoms rather than the disease.

    • That makes no sense. With empty storefronts all over the city, it's obviously not "too little" space that's available.

    • Taller buildings don’t ceeate more space for businesses. They create more space for luxury condos. The number of floors in a building doesnt matter because businesses are usually only on the ground floor. So whether it is a tall building or a shorter building, the amount of retail businesses will be the same

      And to reiterate Ellen’s point, there are empty storefronts all over the city, so your point makes no sense.

      You must be a REBNY plant.

  7. I challenged Councilmember Helen Rosenthal at her press conference before the March 18th public hearing for the 9 do-nothing bills. I am a disaffected business owner who lost her coffee shop, RedEye Coffee in Hudson Yards, because our landlord refused to give us a new lease unless we gave him $25K in cash. I told her that none of the 9 bills — i.e.: a registry of vacant storefronts, SBS assistance so biz owners can learn 'how to market' themselves, rewriting the regulatory rules in plain english, etc. — would have helped us keep our space. But City Council already knows that. They also know how to put on a big fake show that such legislation would help small business owners — over the real solution which is the SBJSA, which gives business owners rights during the lease renewal process. Insinuating to me that the SBJSA had 'issues,' CM Rosenthal said in her slow careful voice and practiced puppy dog eyes that, "There's a reason why the SBJSA hasn't gotten out of the Council for 37 years." Yes Helen, there is a reason and it's real estate money that you and the rest of the Council beg for. Look no further to our beloved Speaker Corey Johnson. Let us not forget that in September 2017, he accepted $337,000 of real estate, Wall Street, nightlife and corporate philanthropy dollars out of nearly half a million. Let us also not forget he has never met a development he hasn't loved, while taking money from the Rudin real estate menace that bought the iconic St. Vincent's Hospital for pennies on the dollar to turn it into luxury condos. He gave the SBJSA a public hearing, but what's the point if you rig it with REBNY bros who wear baseball caps with a lie on their forehead "Commercial Rent Control" and appoint a wealthy landlord, Mark Gjonaj, who will never bring it out of committee. And where is the discussion in the Council of a moratorium on evictions — isn't that the least they can do to help businesses — or do they really not care about Tortilla Flats, The Half King, Coffee Shop, Cup & Saucer, Garden of Eden, Associated Supermarket, Cafe Edison, House of Curiosities, etc. Read the tea leaves folks: Corey Johnson has no intention of passing the SBJSA, helping small business owners, saving jobs, solving the crisis of closings, but wants to run for Mayor. Somebody needs to tell him he might not be right for that job.

  8. High property taxes are also to blame for high rents. NYC is characterized by over-spending and over-taxation. High rents are a symptom, not the root cause.

  9. How has Greg Bishop the so-called Commissioner of NYC Small Business Services not been fired yet?

    • In any city in the world if 500 businesses were evicted each month and over 1,000 closed each month under your watch , the Small Business Commissioner would have been fired after just three months. But this is NYC where the SBS commissioner serves big real estate not small businesses and the SBS budget was increased ! Disgraceful
      Bishop speaking at the Sham Hearing in Oct was the single most shameful testimony every given at any 11 previous hearings on the Jobs Survival Act. Bishop and SBS have no intentions, or never will, have any intention of serving small businesses and work to pass legislation to save a single business or give a single right to any small business owner.
      Shame of them ALL! Vote them all out of office.

  10. Thank you for your fine opinion piece, Sharon. I wonder why Corey Johnson took his name off the bill. Your writing on this important subject is always informative and important.

  11. great post admin, thanks for sharing

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