First they came for the independent bookstores, and I didn't say anything because there weren't any in my neighborhood anyway. Then I found out that Pearl River Mart would be closing at the end of the year due to a humongous rent increase, and I still didn't get too upset. It is a cool store, but one I haven't gone to in ages. Plus you get desensitized after hearing of all the coffee shops, shoe repair stores, and other small businesses closing their doors because they can't afford to stay in NY anymore.
But as wealthy real estate developers and big landlords hike up commercial rents all over the city, will there be any stores left in our neighborhoods other than fast food chains and bank branches? Every month, over 1000 small businesses close; many storefronts remain vacant, and good jobs are lost. And storefronts aren't the only commercial property affected. Where will artists and small manufacturers go when industrial buildings are converted into hotels and luxury lofts, and office buildings lust after more lucrative tenants?
If you've ever been upset to find your favorite neighborhood businesses closing due to unbelievable rent hikes, consider joining the Artist Studio Affordability Project (ASAP). This group of artists and activists is encouraging NYC Council members to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. According to ASAP, the SBJSA "offers an opportunity to restore economic equality to our (small) business owners, save our artists and cultural institutions, maintain the character of our neighborhoods, ... and could even function as a brake on gentrification."
The SBJSA gives commercial tenants in good standing a right to 10 year lease renewals and other protections. That's it. It's doesn't even go as far as commercial rent control - which the city actually had from 1945 to 1963. (And it worked!) But it is languishing in committee, and has been for decades, because our council members are afraid to stand up to the developers and real estate interests. Even Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and supposedly a supporter of the arts, has yet to back this legislation to keep artists and cultural institutions from being priced out of our neighborhoods.
NYC doesn't need another hundred Starbucks. The City Council needs to bring SBJSA to a vote. Commercial real estate needs to be affordable so local small businesses - and good jobs - can stay in NY.