Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Crisis of the Bodegueros

In this morning's El Diario Ramon Murphy, the head of the Bodega Association of the United States, writes an Op-Ed on the crisis facing bodega owners in New York City. As he tells us, thousands of these vital neighborhood stores are being forced into bankruptcy-depriving neighborhoods of vital services, and thousands of local jobs. In fact, bodega owners will be holding a press conference on the Small Business Preservation Act, a rent arbitration bill sponsored by Councilman Jackson, today at 11:00 AM in Washington Heights.

In the piece, he calls on our elected officials to include the bodegueros in the president's stimulus package-with an emergency fund to help prevent store closings. Murphy also asks that our state officials to stop further burdensome regulations like the expansion of the bottle bill, regs that add costs and weaken the profitability of these vital small retailers. Here's a full translation of the cry for help:

"Bodegas in New York City are in a state of crisis-with hundreds of stores forced into bankruptcy; or evicted from their locations because of exorbitant rent increases. We are, of course, in the middle of one of the worst recessions this country has seen in over twenty five years. That being said, a great deal of the plight of the bodegas can be directly attributed to the actions of government.

Bodegas, as all of the city’s neighborhood retailers, have an extremely high cost of doing business. Many of these costs are derived from high taxes and too many burdensome and costly regulations-the well publicized “ticket blitzes” that come down hard on smaller retailers. Just a few short years ago, Mayor Bloomberg hit the stores with a one-two punch: a 20% increase in the commercial real estate tax that was passed on to the stores in the form of a rent increase; and a cigarette tax that, while raising the levy from .08 cents to $1.5, effectively removed over $250 million a year from the retailers to the black market.

Now, however, the crisis on Wall Street is also a crisis on Main Street. Stores are closing and jobs are being lost. If government doesn’t act to reverse this trend, the city’s neighborhood shopping areas will resemble ghost towns; and public safety, as well as a rich community life, will be lost. What can be done to help the stores survive?

The first thing that should be done is for a portion of the federal stimulus package to be directed into a foreclosure and emergency small business loan fund to prevent the closing of so many of the city’s distressed stores. Next, the city should put a moratorium on fines and violations; substituting a warning for any first offense.

In addition, there should be a freeze on any new regulations that inhibit the ability of smaller retailers to make a profit. Chief among these is the proposal to expand the state’s bottle law to include water and juice containers. The compliance with the current bottle law’s mandates is too costly as it is; but adding more containers in the current economic climate is just wrong.
Lastly, the city should roll back its commercial real estate tax to pre-2002 levels; while simultaneously passing the Small Business Preservation Act that protects the bodegas against arbitrary evictions.

The bodegas are closing, and we need all levels of government to acknowledge their importance, and come together to help with their survival. This request isn’t a purely selfish one. The growth and prosperity of the bodegas is linked closely to that of the city itself. It’s time for action."