New York, N.Y., U.S.A.
Mayor de Blasio must have just wiped the crust off his eyes from one of his daily afternoon naps and “woke” to the almost decade long proliferation of intentionally abandoned stores spread throughout the city’s poor and most conspicuously wealthier and tourist heavy locales. For a decade under “Fun Size Mayor” Bloomberg and 4 years under William, as stores that have been around for decades or more have been closing succumbing to brutal rises in rents, the current mayor now wants to levy a tax on derelict landlord commercial property owners.
As a growing number of vacant storefronts dot the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday said he wants to penalize landlords who leave the shopfronts sitting empty.
“I am very interested in fighting for a vacancy fee or a vacancy tax that would penalize landlords who leave their storefronts vacant for long periods of time in neighborhoods because they are looking for some top-dollar rent but they blight neighborhoods by doing it,” he said on WNYC. “That is something we could get done through Albany.”
The borough’s overall vacancy rates doubled from 2.1 percent to 4.2 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to a City Council report published in December. The report blamed landlords charging skyrocketing rents right as brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling with growing online competition.
When reached for details on exactly how such a penalty would work, the mayor’s office said it was still in the planning phases.
Mayor Big Slow finally takes action. Sort of, yet again. For it’s going to probably take him and his staff who let this slow death of businesses and blight fester and some of his 300 aides another 2 to 3 million dollars to study it.
But it’s not the first time it has been proposed — Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has already been pushing for such a tax since last year, when her office studied the entirety of Broadway and found 188 empty storefronts — with the most in Morningside Heights.
Gale isn’t the only one, for with anyone who owns a desktop, laptop, tablet or cellphone would know that this local economic induced plague has gone on unchecked for over a decade and has been thoroughly documented by blogger and now published writer Jeremiah Moss on his blog Vanishing New York, who coined the term used in this posts title “high end blight”. He is also behind a hashtag that brings awareness of this with his SaveNYC campaign, which brings up the fact of the legislation for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to preserve the once enduring reliable stores which have been flagrantly ignored for years by the fauxgressive majority democrat city council and de Faustio.
This small business killing pandemic has been documented by other local bloggers and reported in other established digital and print publications as well. But for pure effect this got the attention of an actual established successful actor of two long-running TV shows. Tony Danza brought this subject up exactly a year ago to Mayor Big Slow when he called WNYC and all the mayor wanted to do
talk about was to change the narrative to mozzarella and Tony was having none of that:
Brian Lehrer: Tony Danza is calling in, how about that.
Danza: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: How you doing, Tony?
Question: I’m very well, sir. Thank you very much.
Mayor: Tony, I want to just commend you. I tried some of your smoked mozzarella.
Can I do an on-air endorsement?
Danza: That’s very nice.
Mayor: Tony Danza’s smoked mozzarella at his shop in Little Italy – go there right now, New York City. And I’m saying that – I’m a grandson of Neapolitan, so I know something about smoked mozzarella.
Danza: Listen, Mr. Mayor, that actually brings me to my question. I’d just like to know what your thoughts are about what I like to call the ‘neighborhood wasting disease.’ You know we have so many longtime establishments that have anchored neighborhoods in this city that are just being pushed out by exorbitant rents. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how you legislate that. But I’d just like to know what your thoughts are about going forward. Like, where I live on the West Side, on one block – and this is the truth, this is what’s really kind of startling, is that Starbucks had to leave because they couldn’t pay the rent.
Danza: So, that seems like some crossing of a Rubicon or something –
Mayor: You know you have a problem when Starbucks can’t afford the rent.
Danza: That’s what I’m saying. So, I just would like to know what your thoughts are going forward.
Mayor: It’s a great question. And, Tony, first of all, thank you for all you do for the city and everything you’ve done as an actor. But before I answer the question, why don’t you remind people what your store is and where it is.
Danza: It’s Alleva –
Lehrer: Say it again. The first part of that got clipped. Say it again.
Danza: Alleva. It’s on the corner of Grand and Mulberry in Little Italy. It’s celebrating its 125th anniversary in October. It was in the Alleva family for all these years and a few years ago a friend – a couple of friends of mine and I bought into it. We’ve been trying to run it and keep it alive because we end up feeling more like curators than store owners because there’s, you know, because of this thing that’s going on in the city.
Lehrer: This is not –
Mayor: Well, Tony, I think first of all. Your place is amazing and thank you for helping to save it –
Lehrer: This isn’t your Kellyanne Conway moment – plugging a product, right?
Mayor: I’m not plugging a product. I am talking about our patrimony as New Yorkers. This is a store that’s been there 120 years – you said 120 years, Tony, correct?
Danza: 125 – 1892.
Mayor: 1892. And it is part of our heritage. And I agree with Tony’s point. We’ve got to figure out every conceivable way to keep these particularly – these extraordinarily, meaningful stores that’s so much the fabric of our community.
Danza: You know, Mr. Mayor, not to interrupt but all the stores are meaningful. The smaller mom-and-pop places that I go get my paper in. It’s not there anymore. Just everything. It’s just –
Mayor: Yeah, but Tony, wait a minute. I want to answer your question. But I do – I want to make a little differentiation because I think – I always used to talk about, there was a place called Manganaro’s [inaudible] on Ninth Avenue that was there for also over 100 years that unfortunately closed a couple years ago. My grandfather went there when he first arrived in this country in 1905. I mean some places are –
Mayor: You know, really part of our persona as New Yorkers. I think they need special attention. The public sector has a tough challenge here because we are generally not in the position of subsidizing businesses and we don’t really have another great tool to do it. The first thing I want to say is, this is a case where some people could step up individually. You just did that. So, I want to commend you because there’s plenty of people in this town who have money. There’s plenty of people in this town who have celebrity who could step in and save some of these icons of New York City, and you did the right thing. I would urge more people to do it.
But this is a bigger point about how do we protect small business in general. What we did that we could do, Tony, first, reduce the fines that – and we still have more to do on that. When I was – back when I was public advocate we found that previous administration had a pattern of over-fining stores particularly immigrant stores, particularly outer borough stores are all sorts of examples. But those fines were really making it impossible for a lot of stores to keep going.
We’re steadily reducing the amount of fines. We want health and safety, of course. We want stores to play by the rules but we can achieve that a lot of times without financially burdening them. So, that’s point one.
Point two is we started legal assistance programs and small grant programs for older stores in particular to make sure that they’re not being kicked out because some landlord cheated them on their lease or they didn’t have a lawyer to protect their interests. And again sometimes a small grant can make a big difference for a store. So, we’re trying to innovate. I don’t have a big solution. Some people have talked about tax credits and things like that. The problem is when you compare that to all the other things we need to spend money on, it’s hard to put that over you know policing and schools and so many other challenges we have.
Lehrer: Tony, do you have a policy proposal to make regarding commercial rent?
Danza: I wish I did. I’m at my wit’s end. I mean, I don’t know what to say. I mean, you know, I’m particularly, because, you know, as soon as I walk out the building I see the empty stores, places I used to hang out in like the –
Lehrer: Do you want some commercial – and Tony, I’m going to have to move onto another caller in a minute but do you want some kind of commercial rent control which the administration and City Council have not gone for or something?
Danza: But at some point we many have to think about something like that. I don’t know how you’d do that in our society, you know? Tell landlords this is, you know, a cap. Or make some of a thing where the increases aren’t so large immediately. So, you know what happens, they come and throw you a big increase and then what do you do? You see what I’m saying? So, maybe if we could moderate that, maybe that could be –
Mayor: Tony said something very important, Brian. He said, “in our society.” Look, let’s be really cold here. It’s a free enterprise society that is not particularly warm and friendly to things like older stores, mom-and-pop stores. I would urge the landlords to be less greedy. If you’ve got a store that’s part of the fabric of a community, guess what, you could stop overcharging and let them survive, and you’re still going to be wealthy –
Lehrer: But urging them to be – like, you know as well as anybody that urging them to be less greedy isn’t going to change anything –
Mayor: I’m not saying I believe –
Lehrer: We have residential rent controls of various types in this city.
Mayor: Yeah, but you also know those were created in a different time. And the challenge on commercial rent control, it’s very legally dubious. Look, the entire – this not a news flash. The entire legal system is based on property rights and supporting a free enterprise system that needs in so many ways more regulation but our legal system isn’t built that way often.
So, I do think we should keep looking for a more stringent solution. I’d be very interested in one but I also want to – I want to lay this out exactly as what’s happening here. There’s a series of individual decisions and some stores are so sacred if you will, some are so important to this city, we should put pressure on those landlords to lay off and let them live. And by the way they add to the character of communities and if you want a capitalist argument, they add to the value therefore because they are part of what make communities special.
Danza: You’re preaching to the choir, believe me.
Lehrer: Tony, thank you for adding your voice.
Danza: Thank you very much, Brian. Have a great day. Take care, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Thank you, Tony. Take care, brother.
In retrospect, even after his initial attempt at starfucking Tony, de Faustio still blew him off despite bringing up the origins and present causes of the malaise caused by greedy landlords and political insouciance. His response and solution for “landlords to be less greedy” resembles his recent odious response to 400,000 freezing NYCHA tenants regarding neglected boiler maintenance and replacements for them not to expect a rose garden. He also again deferred responsibility and accountability by suggesting that celebrities should come out and address the issues to get attention, which may be why his homegirl Cynthia Nixon is running for governor.
Now that de Faustio has belatedly come to his senses with this issue that has reached it’s tipping point and with his recent funding of NYCHA and the MTA (which was inspired by his douchebag photo op campaigning and the recent budget approval from rival Gov. Cuomo in their battle to be superficially more progressive), I hope he also finds sudden interest in punitive measures for pay to play political favors and the use of luxury condos as tax shelters by foreign and domestic oligarchs, stemming the reckless rubber stamping approvals of building air rights and movie shoots, and the still continuing harassment by construction in buildings with rent regulated tenants.
How long can the endangered species of small business owners continue to hold their collective breath?