The corner bodega that closed its doors after 40 years. The laundromat that can’t pay the enormous increase in rent. The successful grocery store forced to relocate or close.
It is no exaggeration to say that small local businesses in Manhattan are in a state of crisis. Soaring rents catering to an ever-more-wealthy population in the city have made it increasingly impossible for small local shops to stay afloat.
For the business owners, the crisis is obvious, and personal. But the rest of us are suffering, too, through the loss of diversity on our blocks, the rise of impersonal chain stores, the pangs of watching a place we grew up with disappear. Uniformity is not the reason we moved to New York.
Mayor de Blasio came into office promising to do something about inequality in the city, and he’s made some impressive moves addressing the issue when it comes to housing. His support for an 80-20 plan, mandating that 20 percent of new residential construction be set aside for affordable housing, is a smart idea.
Let’s use the same approach when it comes to commercial rents. Requiring developers to set aside 20 percent of new rental space for local businesses, at reduced rents, won’t solve the problem, but it could help slow the exodus that is stripping our neighborhoods of their character.
We can hear the chorus of nitpickers already. Who will decide whether a business is local? Won’t this scare developers away? Hasn’t Manhattan always been an expensive place to run a business?
We’ll address all of these questions in coming weeks. But we need, urgently, to get this conversation started now. There are two perfect places to begin: One is at the World Trade Center, which has had to lower its retail rents because it hasn’t been able to find enough tenants to pay its asking price. Given the emotional attachment all of us have to the site, it’s the perfect test for an embrace of our local businesses. The other is at the massive Hudson Yards project on the West Side, which essentially is creating an entirely new Manhattan neighborhood from the ground up. Why not create a neighborhood with the kind of small businesses that drew many of us to the city in the first place?
Mayor de Blasio campaigned for office as someone who was particularly attuned to the needs, and the concerns, of people in our city who have no voice. Small businesses across the city are screaming for his attention. He needs to listen.
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