Monday, November 01, 2010

The City Limits of Mom and Pop

City Limits has a really good piece on the decline of Mom and Pop stores in NYC neighborhoods: "Neither the city nor the state tracks the number of small-business closures or openings, but store owners and their advocates, economists and real estate experts agree that recent years have been extraordinarily difficult for shopkeeping. A study last year by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner's office found that of 5,991 stores surveyed citywide, 726 had closed or were in the process of closing—more than 12 percent."

As we have been saying for years, a great deal of blame for this phenomenon can be placed at the feet of the mayor: "The Bloomberg administration created a Department of Small Business Services, which has expanded the number of business improvement districts, created online tools to help entrepreneurs navigate the red tape involved in starting a business and even helped steer some small business owners to loans. But other city and state policies might be making life harder for small business owners. Owners complain about new taxes, tougher parking enforcement and rezoning and redevelopment initiatives that favor larger retailers over small stores or residential over commercial uses."

Now if the mayor would simply close up the silly small business agency-and find other areas where the size and scope of government can be trimmed-than we might get some tax relief for the struggling stores. Oh, and stop with the mega retail developments, like Flushing Commons, that kill the lifeblood of city neighborhoods.

The entire push for the Walmartization of New York needs to be seen in the light of this small business struggle-a proliferation that could mean the final nail in the coffin of neighborhood commerce. Calls for radical changes are being put forth to deal with the dangerous trend that could kill what's left of the city's vaunted diversity: "That's led to calls for more radical measures to help small businesses, like commercial land trusts, bans on new chain stores like the one enacted in several San Francisco neighborhoods and commercial rent control. The administration opposed a recent City Council proposal to require landlords to submit to binding arbitration in disputes with commercial tenants; the idea has been shelved."

The trends are indeed ominous-and it has all happened under the Mike Bloomberg's less than watchful eye. Now, as the mayor cheer leads for the Walmonster, small stores struggle to keep their heads above water: "For other business, however, the pressure from big chains, rising rents, changing tastes and unfriendly government policy remains a mortal threat. Gary Nudelman has run a pet store on 86th Street for two decades. As business has fallen off in recent years, he changed his product mix, slimmed down his stock, cut his staff and increased his own hours. But survival is still a doubtful prospect. "You have no choice. You learn to buy better. You become leaner. You use your staff better," he says. "But if it doesn't start doing something soon, I'm going to be out of business after 26 years."

For some, like Greg David, however, Wal-Mart should be promoted by the mayor-for the city's future: "With the signals growing clearer that Walmart is about to acknowledge it will seek to open its first New York City store, Mr. Steel and the mayor will face a test. They will have to decide whether to take the politically expedient path of staying on the sidelines in the war over Walmart or enter it to support Walmart, since the mayor believes that the megaretailer is important to the city's future."

Yeah, its future death knell. With Wal-Mart poised to try to take the city by storm, and the mayor planning another health regulation involving food stamps that will hurt the city's 13,000 bodegas, it's time to really call him out. He has done enough harm to this city's small business community and we need to tell him loudly to stop fronting for all of the big guys-and just leave us the heck alone.