Utilizing all the tools to save small stores

Our local small businesses are more than just brick and mortar. They’re more than just places to shop. They are the lifeblood of our communities. The corner deli, bric-a-brac thrift store, affordable supermarket and lampshade shop collectively make up the essence of our neighborhoods. They create the beautiful “sidewalk ballet” that Jane Jacobs famously identified as a city’s heart and soul.

Sadly, our mom-and-pop stores are in crisis. Unchecked real estate speculation, skyrocketing rents, fines, competition from deep-pocketed corporate chains and online shopping are putting unprecedented pressure on small businesses. Many landlords are opting to let their storefronts sit vacant, holding out for exorbitant rents.

We cannot allow this trend to continue. Government has a responsibility to take action before it’s too late. We must use every tool in our toolbox.

I am a proud co-sponsor of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would give tenants a right to lease renewal, a right to arbitration by a third party if fair terms cannot be reached, and restrictions to prevent landlords from passing their property taxes on to small business owners. The importance of these measures cannot be overstated. This bill would give mom-and-pops a fighting chance.

Recently enacted legislation that I co-sponsored includes the Non-Residential Tenant Harassment Law, which cracks down on harassment of commercial tenants by landlords. Another bill creates the role of small business advocates within the city’s Department of Small Business Services. We also recently passed a Business Owner’s Bill of Rights.

It’s also time to address the Commercial Rent Tax, an unfair 3.9 percent rent surcharge on Manhattan businesses below 96th St. that pay an annual rent of more than $250,000. When that threshold was established, it didn’t apply to many small businesses, but now it does. Councilmember Dan Garodnick has introduced legislation to raise that threshold to $500,000, which I support. But there is one business that should be entirely exempt from this tax: affordable supermarkets. My bill with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer would exempt them, reducing overhead costs and promoting healthier grocery practices by requiring a minimum amount of floor space for the sale of fresh produce.

Another bill I’m sponsoring, with Councilmember Robert Cornegy, would help relieve business owners from fines by creating an on-site compliance consultation program. Other bills include legislation that would create a Small Business Disaster Recovery and Resiliency Advisory Board, and a bill that would create a notification system whereby small business owners can be informed of complaints lodged against them.

Importantly, we all need to personally support our small businesses. Think twice about choosing Amazon over your local store. In November, I am partnering with the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce on the #ShopBleecker campaign. Please join us!

This column is too small to outline everything that needs to be done, both here and in Albany. This issue has been and always will be one of my top priorities. Thank you for your partnership as we work together on this and many other issues of vital importance to our community.

Johnson is city councilmember, Third District, including the Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen

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