OPINION: Freeze store evictions until S.B.J.S.A. is OK’d

BY SHARON WOOLUMS | A protest, led by Marni Halasa, owner of a family business recently forced to close in Chelsea, was held last week in front of the former Cornelia St. Cafe.

Unlike other protests where customers, joining with shop owners, focus their wrath upon landlords, this one centered on what the demonstrators called City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s failure.

“Cornelia St. Cafe and my own wouldn’t be closed if Johnson had kept his campaign pledge to promote progressive legislation like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act,” she said. “My poster holds Speaker Corey Johnson responsible and spells out why,” Halasa said. “Johnson turned his back on mom-and-pop businesses and the future of the Village by joining the rigging by REBNY’s lobby — creating sham hearings, phony initiatives, worthless bills and useless studies to ensure the status quo for big real estate.

Jim Drougas, left, and Marni Halasa say Council Speaker Corey Johnson must let the Small Business Jobs Survival Act come up for a vote before the full City Council — and soon! (Photo by Sharon Woolums)

“Under Johnson’s watch, an estimated 18,000 businesses have closed. Yet, with the growing crisis, the speaker continues to do nothing but collude with the Real Estate Board of New York to orchestrate ‘political theater’ and fake proposals that won’t save a single business or job.

“Corey, if you have a better solution to stop the closing of Village businesses, bring it forward,” Halasa declared. “If you don’t, pass the S.B.J.S.A. intact and vote it into law now — or enact a moratorium on commercial evictions when a lease expires. And maintain the moratorium until enough lawmakers have the political will to stand up to REBNY and vote a viable small business rights bill into law. End this crisis.

“Until Speaker Johnson lives up to his promise and finally passes a law to stop the closings or calls for a moratorium to freeze commercial evictions, we hold him responsible for all small business closings in New York City.”

Jim Drougas, owner of the Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Book Shop, on Carmine St., also sent a message to Speaker Johnson.

“My bookshop, and other well-established businesses in the Village cannot stay in business without a law protecting business owners during the one-sided unfair commercial lease-renewal process,” he said. “We desperately need a law giving shop owners rights to negotiate fair lease terms.

“For too long our [City Council] speakers have sided with the real estate lobby in denying just rights to small business owners when their leases expire.

“You pledged to find a solution and to move the S.B.J.S.A. to a vote,” Drougas said of Johnson. “What are we waiting for? Until there are little else but corporate chains and countless empty shops left in the Village? Because a solution exists in your Council that will stop all closings immediately, we necessarily must hold you responsible for the closings of our small businesses.”

For small businesses, it’s a battle of rights. Nine new bills were recently touted as helping small businesses. But not one gives a single right to desperate small business owners. Months negotiating behind closed doors at the speaker’s office produced nothing that will actually save businesses or jobs.

It was clear at last October’s hearing on the S.B.J.S.A. that Corey Johnson was convinced the S.B.J.S.A. was “not the silver bullet” to fix this crisis. But, Corey, with nine REBNY-created bullets shooting blanks, perhaps it’s time to reload the mercurial silver bullet and finally give the S.B.J.S.A. the shot it deserves.

36 Responses to OPINION: Freeze store evictions until S.B.J.S.A. is OK’d

  1. Stating that the SBJSA would have saved the Cornelia Street Cafe is a lie. The cafe closed in the middle of its lease (and even if it hadn't, under SBJSA, landlords can still raise the rent to market rate). Lots of misinformation here. There are enough falsehoods coming out of the White House – we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.

    • You have no clue of what the bill does. First you are dead wrong that the landlord can raise the rent to market rate. He can ask for market rate but under this bill , he only has the right to ask . It is not like today where he DEMANDS and get what he wants. The bill gives rights to the tenants to negotiate equally with their landlords the new terms and if mutual agreement can't be reached then they go to an arbitration process which has many criteria the arbitrator follows. Speaker Johnson was sworn in Jan 1 2018 and had more than enough time for a hearing and pass the bill which would have given Cornelia Street Cafe a right to renew a 10 year lease. On April 19, 2009 former Small Business Committee Chairman David Yassky announced a crisis existed for small businesses in NYC, this was based upon the largest study ever of immigrant businesses. He held a hearing to find a solution on June 29, 2009 and his committee selected Small Business Jobs Survival Act as the best solution to stop the closings and save jobs. He became a sponsor along with the entire Small Business Committee making 32 sponsors. Within three months his committee was prepared to address a citywide crisis with legislation not political theater orchestrated by the real estate lobby with stalling studies and useless initiatives.

      • "he only has the right to ask" — yes, that's a big problem with the bill. What if the shoe were on the other foot? Would it be ok if the retail business only had the right to ASK for a new 10-year lease? I'm guessing savenyjobs would be opposed to that.

  2. The day Johnson selected Mark Gjonaj as Chairman of the Small Business Committee he killed any hope for every small business owner , including the Cornelia Cafe owner, to negotiate a fair lease when their leases expired. Gjonaj was REBNY's top selection because Gjonaj is the owner of a real estate company and is only for landlords. With the selection of this pro-landlord to oversee small business owners facing a crisis , which Johnson readily acknowledges, Speaker Johnson should be held responsible for all closings. If on the other hand, Corey would have upheld his progressive values and selected an honest voice for small businesses , the Small Business Jobs Survival Act would have easily been selected as the best and only real solution to stop the closings and easily passed into law.

  3. This city is becoming a GHOST TOWN! Literally ALL of my favorite restaurants in the East Village have closed for one reason .. THE RENT .. Paquitos (1st Avenue & 9th Street), Cucina De Pesce (4th Street and 2nd Avenue), Three of Cups (1st Avenue and 5th Street) and the spot where Benny's Burritos was (Avenue A & 7th Street) has literally been EMPTY for 5 years!!! This is not a normal course of business, this is not "let the market determine" .. this is landlord greed and the destruction of a community. This bill gives HOPE to business owners, why would anyone want to start a business and invest their life into it (talk to the former owner of Three of Cups who opened 25 years ago when no one wanted to invest in the East Village). And this is just one neighborhood .. what about Bleecker Street and Hudson Street and 6th Avenue .. Pass the Bill!

    • And yet every statistic shows that there are more restaurants in NYC than ever. Ghost town? All evidence to the contrary. Nostalgia is clouding your vision. Mine too, so I understand, but facts must still matter.

  4. How can any member of our City Council walk down almost any street in New York City without being stricken with shame at this disease of abandoned stores, growing dangerously more numerous every day? Nero fiddled while Rome burned. And our City Council's just twittering deceptive nonsense on and on and on, avoiding an absolutely urgent SBJSA law that would blessedly enable small businesses to fight off extortion level rents at lease renewal time, which now is so torturing our endangered neighoorhoods. Obviously, Jim Drougas and Marni Halasa have suffered this first hand, Ms Halasa losing her hand working Cafe to a vicious rent increase and Mr Drougas, who's watching the stores around him closing down one after another while only deep anxiety awaits him when his least is up. The damage is so great! Just down the block from Mr Drougas' book store is the Cornelia Street Cafe, which just closed down when the Cafe's ex con landlord raise the rent to 40,000 dollars a month with no recourse. Yes, how can any City Council member walk through this city without true shame.

  5. This City really needs to do something important to help small businesses. It's too bad that the BJSA is not the solution. If it were a good bill, it would have passed years ago. Not sure why a bunch of old timers continue to push an old way of looking at an issue. This bill is decades past its relevance. Why can't we come up with something current? How long will it take before BJSA supporters stop doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? What's the problem with trying something new? It's not like this bill is even close to being passed. It's actually going backwards in terms of Council support. Something must be done, but the BJSA is a bad bill for too many reasons, and it's definitely not Progressive in the least. Come on, Man!

    • "… the BJSA is a bad bill for too many reasons," how about you name 3 without betraying your REBNY-troll status with your first word. Three, a not unreasonable requests since, according to you, the reasons are so numerous (that you were clearly too overwhelmed to resist insulting its supporters without mentioning even a single one).

      • 1. It violates the Takings Clause of the Constitution.
        2. It violates the Contracts Clause of the Constitution.
        3. And a big one: it applies to all businesses equally including every big bank, every big box store, and every hedge fund, etc.

        Feel free to let me know if you want more, but that would be incredibly disingenuous of you. And I'll guess you'll have issues with the constitutional problems, but without a court fight, you cannot in good consciousness claim that you're right and I'm not.

        And lets be clear on one thing: I do not insult people here. I have to work very hard to not call people names when it so often seems deserved. I'm happy to stick to the issues, because I truly want to see small businesses get the help they need, and truly believe that those holding so tightly to this bygone bill are not helping at all.

    • Knowing who you represent I will still reply to set the record straight for those readers who may believe you care more for small businesses than for protecting the profits of landlords. First the last honest hearing on this bill was in late 2009 when an honest lawmaker, David Yassky chaired the Small Business Committee. He told the SBS to produce solutions to stop the closings or small businesses would disappear. He was right! The bill was selected as the best solution and have 32 sponsors. Not one word was testified to concerning any challenges to the bills legality.
      The bill is MORE relevant today because the speculation and greed are out of control. Supporters are doing the same thing calling for rights for small business owners because REBNY is doing the same thing, rigging the system to deny them. The bill has 29 sponsors and the majority of the committee as sponsors, yet you falsely claim its not close to passing. What is going forward is the support from the public who want their small businesses saved and are tired of lame excuses and worthless initiatives which do not stop the closing of a single business.

      • And yet it is nowhere close to getting a vote. Why is that? It must be really frustrating for you. 2009 was a long time ago. Liberals loved Quinn, and she loved liberals, but she never gave this bill a vote. Same for Mark-Viverito.
        Corey loves Progressives and Progressives loved Corey until he became leader. Again, no vote on this bill. All 3 leaders love to pander to their voters, so it's not that they hate you or all of a sudden turned conservative.
        Since you cannot claim Republicans are holding it up, what do you think their reason is? Is it only that they not want to spend millions of dollars defending a losing law in the courts for years to come?
        The best study on this issue, and the only one I can find is from Fordham: https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi… Can you do better? Please give us something, anything, other than opinions.

        • Smarter than troll

          Does a vote hinge entirely on merits or perceived politics? Majority are sponsors.

          • No, a vote hinges on how much taxpayer money council members are willing to pay lawyers to defend this bill in court. Barring that, all council members can claim they are behind it, since they know that no Speaker has, or ever will, bring it to the floor. Speakers provide cover for members, so that members can con their voters. I feel bad for supporters of this bill, but in a one-party city, it's impossible to hold electeds to account since there is no one else to vote for.

  6. When Christina Quinn was City Council speaker, the entire Council supported this so called "bad" SBJSA bill. But speaker Quinn all alone stopped it's passage in a truly dictatorial act, catering to the malignant greed of real estate billionaires, willing to distroy the city for their twisted, narcassistic vision of the world.

  7. Hey, politicians, stop the B.S.! S.B.J.S.A. is legal!
    August 17, 2017 Comments (1)

    BY SHARON WOOLUMS | Four years ago, I started a quest to find out which candidates had a real solution to stop the closing of our small businesses and save the character of our beloved Village. In most American cities during an election this would be an easy task. New candidates would welcome the opportunity […]

    Continue reading …

    • Commenters keep claiming the bill is legal, but never provide a shred of evidence. Until it is passed and challenged in court, we will never know. Claiming it is, without proof, is just fake news. You're wasting good people's time and efforts. Can we please have a new bill? I said please.

  8. It's pretty remarkable how ambition awakens unashamed actions in these City Council potentates going back three Speakers in a row. Equally revealing are the glib excuses that come from the Despots Playbook-which explain to folks it's all for the common good even as they're picking your pocket.
    Indeed, Speaker Johnson has the m.o. down pat-quivering lower lip and virtuous self-exoneration as thousands of small business owners-many of whom are immigrants -struggle to sustain their families and their fragile employees' jobs and cannot keep the doors open.

    Nonetheless, with callow excuses -his constituents and all Mom & Pops -hard-working New Yorkers are roundly dismissed with wishes, prayers and cheap excuses-after all, Johnson's ambition is the insurance that his Mayoral run will be funded. Follow the money and follow the greed-they all lead back to predatory Big Real Estate and Corey is their man.

  9. Smarter than troll

    So a Court determined those points about this bill? Please cite the cases about this bill.

  10. How has Greg Bishop not been fired as the Commissioner of NYC Small Business Services? How has Emma Wolf the chief of staff to the mayor been mum about this ongoing problem where emails to the mayors office are ignored? Doesn't the mayors staff see the empty store fronts? Now, the other big problem is all the local Business Improvement Districts who are responsible for marketing & promoting their districts, but do a lousy job and there is no accountability of the Executive Directors of these BIDs since again the mayors office overseas the BIDs. Oh, yes the bids are under NYC SBS where nobody seems to be accountable. What exactly is all those Chamber of Commerce doing? What does the Manhattan Chamber do? What does the Chelsea Chamber do?

    • Chambers organize dinners to give awards to lawmakers, Commissioners , and BID board members for doing
      nothing as small businesses are being destroyed. Dinners sponsored by banks and real estate companies or others who have gotten rich off from the real estate speculation frenzy, what a disgrace. Over 1,000 businesses each month close for over 10 years and these guys get honored and raises. Shame

    • Like the BJSA, BIDs are unconstitutional. It's flatly taxation without representation. But until someone puts up the money to challenge them in court, we'll never be rid of them. Bishop is not the problem — he takes his orders from one person — our faux "Progressive" mayor. Can't wait until he's out of office. Apologies to those "knowing who [I] represent".

  11. Super Malls, chain stores and big box stores are littering our landscape of our beloved city. The family-owned businesses have been under attack and robbed by the crooked politicians who are filling their pockets by the greedy corporate interests. Small businesses have been targeted for decades now, leaving store owners without any safeguards, defenses or recourse. Pay up or get out is the corporate/political criminal cartel theme.

    The culture that makes our communities strong and vibrant are the individual small business owners and patrons that define our diversity of our neighbors. I mourn the loss for all the lives that have been destroyed by the oligarchs who pushed their way into political power. All the faces and names have changed over the years but their self serving agendas are all the same.

    Under our political climate, NYC residents are not immune to the vicious and hostile attacks of what is now being dictated. This conservative, right wing plague is pushing their agenda and we can see the writing on the wall. We are all being ushered into an unfair selfish, unjust, exploitative, discriminatory society of the super rich, bourgeois, nouveau riche, materialistic, sexist/misogynistic and fascist ruling class.

    • "Super Malls, chain stores and big box stores are littering our landscape" — and the BJSA would guarantee renewed 10-years leases for every one of them. Are you ok with that, Debbie?

  12. Guest sounds like a REBNY almost attorney. If he or she had red the bill and the full legal review hosted by the Bronx Borough President then they wouldn't cite their many posts of distraction. REBNY is all about alternative facts and distraction. The taking's clause referred due does not apply here and neither does the contracts clause; this has been reviewed to death. Next, the clear indication that this REBNY Guest hasn't fully read nor do they understand the bill is that they cite totally wrong conclusions of the bill as well. The Small Business JOBS Survival Act after many years of study and at least seven amendments to make it better, addresses directly the unfair lease renewal process and will end the closing CRISIS. And YES, it also provides for a reasonable return on the investment for the landlord too. And if that so happens to help all small businesses and large businesses too, so be it. Maybe they won't have to raise their costs based upon the thirty year real estate greed grab here and hyper-inflated operational costs and consumers then all benefit. The bottom line is not only is it legal and possibly the most vetted legislation in NYC history, it will stop the crisis of closings and empty storefronts littering every single commercial block in all five boroughs. Call your council member and tell them to Pass the JOBS ACT NOW. As for the silly consent REBNY guest comments, that is why we have courts. http://www.saveNYCjobs.org for FACTS!

    • I'm happy to read anything, so please post a link to the "full legal review hosted by the Bronx Borough President". While you're at it, please post a link to any "reviewed to death" documents and any documents from the "many years of study" as well as anything of "the most vetted legislation in NYC history". Just saying so doesn't make it so. If it's all as overdone as you suggest, there should be mounds of documentation confirming your statements. Never has any such information been made public, so the only thing left to say is, I Double-Dog Dare You. Please, I want to be proven wrong!

  13. Great article, Sharon Woolums. My favorite sentence was: “Corey, if you have a better solution to stop the closing of Village businesses, bring it forward." So many New Yorkers care about this issue. Thank you again for taking it on.

    • Yes, Corey, bring forward a vacancy tax, a retail registry, tax credits for landlords with below market leases & small commercial spaces, reduced property assessments in historic districts, and retail sq. ft. limits (like Brewer achieved when she was a council member), as well as legalizing ground floor residential living. Just a start, but any of these would be more possible, constitutional, and better than the BJSA.

      • Really, bring forth everything that favors the landlords and keeps the status quo with NO rights for tenants, how is that going to work? Brewer's zoning a colossal failure with empty stores everywhere and not one business saved. How long can you play the fake legal claim as an excuse to pass the Jobs Survival Act? You can't handle the TRUTH, go to link and all arguments on bills constitutionality put to rest.
        https://www.savenycjobs.com/legal-facts-expose-bo

        • A vacancy tax favors landlords – how do you figure that? You're against limits on big box stores – Why? No, really WHYYYY? But you do not believe that reducing property taxes would help small businesses? Wow, as a 35-year resident of this area, well, I have just heard it all now. People's ability to do the same thing over and over and expect different results never ceases to amaze me. Good luck with that.

  14. Thank you (& the villager) for following through with this issue Sharon Woolums. Other reporters have written about it but then let the issue go – for years. Great, hard-hitting reporting. Until money is out of politics we will continue to have false leaders. Maybe it is time to really look at what is happening and to stop letting them get away with it.

  15. Well said Sharon………Let be start with an analogy…..The new york city land mark commission is perhaps one of the best examples of how their inaction and hypocrisy is cloaked and or obfuscated from what really has and always will run this this town..and it goes of course by the term "the schmear"!!!! …e.g. when a building is marked as a landmark one believes it is protected…but of course the reality is that at best, it is the facade that will be preserved while the internal parts are ALWAYS subject to full removal without prejudice….

    And now lets extend the above to the preservation of classic business establishments in new york…..to begin with there is no preservation guidelines of course…not even for the facade!!!!…However recently when going to Macy's downtown we observed that there were now multiple external competitive vendors of Macy which have now taken up residence within Macy notwithstanding the external facade of Macy remaining fully intact….not a bad idea!!! The City's stupidity has no boundaries when it comes to small businesses and the economic and cultural value they bring to a neighborhood….cest magnifigue on mcdougal for example was a small jewelry store established in 1959 which drew buyers and tourists from all over the world and yet it was forced out by a draconian rent increase and replaced in the last 7 years with multiple pathetic attempts from yogurt stores etc!!! Thank you New York City, you have again "exceeded my expectations"!!!!

    Well what more can I say to explain the total incompetence of the legislators of New York City you ask…well one need not look far…just step into washington square park and god help you if you need to go to the restroom…Parks department has in the last 5 years downsized them to one toilet and 3 urinals for all the male visitors to the park..and ladies do not feel let out…3 toilets are available for you…Nice weather is coming…Let the lines begin!!!!

    So in closing, the community boards of a neighborhood should have a veto and appeal power to send to a higher court when it comes to classic small businesses which serve as an integral part of the social and economic health of a neighborhood…i.e. the current system of allowing such decisions to be made unilaterally by politicians is absolutely unacceptable!

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