Thursday, June 12, 2008

UWS Forum

Last night I went to the Neighborhood Forum on Preserving Local Businesses on the Upper West Side, hosted by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. This was my second encounter with Mr. Stringer, the first at the rally to save the small businesses of 9th Ave in Chelsea. I am fast becoming a fan and have been entertaining fantasies of seeing him as mayor.

The forum was held in the ballroom of a synagogue on 76th, and the 150 or so seats were filled with Upper West Siders passionate about their neighborhood and still high from a day spent noshing at Barney Greengrass.

Stringer spoke first, talking about his taskforce to save the mom-and-pops of New York City and asking the audience to give advice and suggestions. "It's time," he said, "for a good old-fashioned West Side town hall meeting... The loss of a small business is the loss of a friend or a relative." People applauded.

Next up was State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who gave the financial "macro picture." I tuned out for most of it because I can't stand hearing about math, but perked up when he said, "There's been a constriction in the Wall Street bonus pool and you can bet there will be a significant drop in the bonus pool in 2008... Wall Street will lose 25,000 more jobs during this current economic downturn."

Next, the microphone went to the people, who lined up to give their suggestions. Amazingly, this crowd, unlike most, did not hog the mike with long-winded, tangential commentary. They actually had useful and interesting things to say.

Two people suggested that vacant spaces receive a tax after 30 days of sitting empty, so landlords will stop the insidious practice of "warehousing" spaces until they amass enough to rent to a big box store. This might stop landlords from hiking rents sky-high, rents they know their old tenants can't afford.

The "wife of Big Nick," of Big Nick's burger and pizza joint (since 1962), suggested repealing the commercial rent tax put in place during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Rents are going up all over the UWS, she said, with $300sf becoming the average and $500sf the norm in new buildings. They're now paying $31,000 a month in rent and are trying not to raise their prices, though "pizza dough is through the roof." At current costs, and rising, she said, "No one who works for us wants to take over the business--is it worth it?"

Next to the mike was the owner of the Apthorp Cleaners, in the Apthorp building, which is going condo. (Read "Apoplectic at the Apthorp" for more info on the shady process.) Residents aren't the only ones getting the boot. The Cleaners received a letter on April 1 telling them they had until June to get out.

Small businesses, both high-end and low, are losing out to big-box and luxury chain development in this city. I'm relieved to see that people are finally coming out to fight this destruction. Here's another opportunity TONIGHT: A screening of Twilight Becomes Night and discussion about saving local businesses in the East Village, 6:30 at St. Mark's Church.


Anonymous said...

be careful around Stringer, he says one thing and does another ( like many pols in the city) He tried to have a secret meeting in Harlem which of course we found out about and showed up. When pressed about the lack of a full functioning library above 145th, he commented to one person "who told you about the library?". Like residents are supposed to be dumb concerning key issues in their neighborhood.

He's jerked the UWS as well on landmarking issues. great posts as always!

Jeremiah Moss said...

politicians make it so hard for us to just love them without caution, don't they? hopefully stringer will do more good than bad in the final analysis.

Anonymous said...

If you're becoming a fan of Stringer, then you need to be slapped. He sold out West Harlem to Columbia University. He supported the High Line in Chelsea which is driving up rents ... and helping to drive out small business. And in Hell's Kitchen he did the same thing. Like most politicians he will pander to gullible constituents and then appoint a task force to study the problem. You should do your homework. Look at the real estate interests who are giving him campaign money. Look at the text of his speeches when he has a real estate audience. He's just like Quinn, going up the ladder, fed by ambition, he's sold out his constituents.

Jeremiah Moss said...

ok, ok, consider me slapped.

L'Emmerdeur said...

25,000 jobs? LOLOLOL.

All these banks are toast. When all is said and done, one of every three Wall Street jobs will be destroyed, at a minimum. Furthermore, all of the banks are moving departments to places like Salt Lake City. In the process, they lay off 3/4ths of the "expensive" NYC staff, replace them with cheapo Salt Lake City entry-levels, and then relocate the remaining quarter of NYC staff to train the newbies in SLC.

Repeat after me: Every major Wall Street firm and every major US commercial bank is INSOLVENT. This is actually worse than the 1930s because derivatives have allowed leverage that makes even the leverage levels seen in the 1920s seem tame. Every time I say something crazy like this, everyone smirks. And then 6 months or a year later, it's on the front page of the New York Times.

And just as New York was the greatest beneficiary of the credit bubble, New York will also suffer the most from the bubble's demise over the next few years. It will happen quickly and violently. Get your gun permits while you can.

Anonymous said...

Surely, hope you're right, L'Emmerdeur. But every time I wish that an economic disaster would hit NYC, I hear more condos being built, stocks somewhat rising, Bernake saying the chance of a recession has gone down, more hedgefunders frequenting my EV hang-out, more yunnies coming to NYC. Although, I work in Wall Street (non-executive type), I am still hoping for that 25,000 to be laid-off (even if it includes my job), just so that NYC an get rid of most of these yunnies and yuppies. Hope this happens sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've always been leery of Stringer. He talks out of both sides of his mouth a little too much for my tastes, although he (well, anybody) would be a welcome relief from the scourge that is Bloomberg. January of 2010 and the departure of our beloved little Napoleon can't come soon enough.

If you're looking for a mayoral candidate who IMHO is sincere in his convictions and eager to actually do something about overdevelopment and rampant gentrification, take a look at Councilman Tony Avella. Of course he has a snowball's chance in hell of even winning the primary but it is refreshing to see a politician who doesn't mince his words on the issue.

Anonymous said...

I hate the idea of commercial rent control -- even though I've owned a small business for a dozen years. The simple truth is that a business is never really safe unless one owns the rights to the bricks and roof over one's head. I find it amazing that while the "rent versus own" debate rages for residential, that banks and businesses aren't strongly behind commercial mortgages. They're just as risky as residential and have stronger resale value.

In the early 90s, a similar situation happened in the town I grew up in in NJ. The anchor tenant, a Sears outlet store closed and the building sat empty for a few years. The local hardware store, pizza and dry cleaners in the complex sat by waiting for the next big draw. When rumors began to circulate that a Home Depot was eyeing the space, instead of sitting by, the owners of the hardware store became landlords, buying the building and re-dividing it among the current tenants and half a dozen new businesses. The net result is a thriving chain of locally-owned businesses supported by their local banks and in control of their own buildings.

Now, I know that in multi-level buildings the math becomes much more complicated, but there must be a way that local businesses can strike deals with owners. If rent collection was pooled, and tenants signed longer leases at fair market escalation, this would alleviate the headaches of the landlord and be more attractive than one large anchor tenant (who may decamp as quickly as he moved in).

It's an area of business growth that is long overdue.