Members from different advocacy groups and small businesses owners took to the steps of City Hall Wednesday morning to speak on the lack of legal protections for commercial tenants and access to affordable spaces within their neighborhoods. This also includes the neighborhood of Kingsbridge Heights, where an impending ice hockey center at the Kingsbridge Armory threatens the existing commercial landscape, according to local shopkeepers.
Christian Ramos, a member of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and vice president of the Kingsbridge Road Merchants Association, is originally from Ecuador and has been living in the Bronx since 2001. He opened his shoe repair store in 2004 on Kingsbridge Road, a block and a half from the massive armory.
“I don’t have a problem with my landlord,” said Ramos, “but I’m scared when they want to change everybody in the area, pushing everybody out. I’m scared to be out of business.”
Talk of small businesses being ousted in Kingsbridge Heights came shortly after the city announced it had pegged the Kingsbridge National Ice Center Inc. to repurpose the long empty Kingsbridge Armory.
Ramos’ group was joined by various organizations including the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) and several independent street vendors through the Street Vendor Project, a membership-based project that highlights the growing vendor population in New York City. The groups have launched United for Small Business, aiming to improve protections for small businesses.
Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen, a campaign coordinator with ANHD, led the rally at City Hall. “Residential tenants have a certain number of protections. Commercial tenants don’t have anything outside of their lease, and that’s a huge disparity,” Moritz-Chapelliquen said. “That’s when we formed the coalition and put together a list of concerns, recommendations and demands to call on the city to take action.”
Key demands for the city include new regulations that make it easier for store owners to acquire longer leases and guarantees that vacant commercial space will be set aside exclusively to mom and pop shop owners.
Saving small business stands as an issue in Brooklyn.
In a 2016 City Council joint hearing by the Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, Sue Wolfe, a building owner and member of the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation, testified that small business owners either must give up their business or officially purchase their commercial space.
“We cannot continue to replace small businesses with chain stores, banks, [and] real estate agencies,” Wolfe said. “It takes away from the charm, the neighborhood feeling, and the neighborhood amenities such as [laundromats], dry cleaners, delicatessens, bookstores.”
Another common concern among store owners is obtaining a long-term lease, which often makes it easier to secure a commercial bank loan. “Any merchant cannot continue to run and manage a business without a lease,” Ramos said. “If you go to the bank for a loan and you don’t have a lease, they’re going to deny your application.”
Lenah Afridi, policy coordinator for equitable economic development at ANHD, highlighted key issues that Bronx commercial tenants tend to face. Some landlords have been known to reject an existing commercial tenant’s lease renewal without much of a say from a store owner.
“One of the biggest issues that folks in the Bronx are telling us about is that there are tons of vacant spaces that people can’t rent,” Afridi said. “And rehabbing those spaces is incredibly expensive, so people can’t afford to do it.”
ANHD proposes a commercial development fund to aid low-income, minority-centered small business owners across the city. It is similar to the affordable housing model, where the city subsidizes a portion of a tenant’s rent based on their income.
Having the city officials enact legislative change for small business owners is a first step for United for Small Business.
“After this meeting, my hope is for somebody to hear our voice,” Ramos said. “Elected officials need to make sure we have regulation.”