Uptown Council Member Rosenthal’s Vacant Storefront Registry And Other Legislation Reviewed

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Council Member Helen Rosenthal‘s legislation which mandates the tracking of commercial storefronts across New York City was reviewed at a Small Business committee hearing today. Also under review, the Council Member’s legislation requiring property owners to register storefronts which are empty for more than three months, and face fines if they do not.

The hearing can be watched here.

As empty storefronts become ever more present in neighborhoods across the city, a growing number of New Yorkers are demanding action. Storefront businesses are a meaningful economic engine in New York — with over 50,000 retail and restaurant businesses employing over 600,000 people across the five boroughs, according to a 2017 City Council analysis.

As empty storefronts become ever more present in neighborhoods across the city, a growing number of New Yorkers are demanding action. Storefront businesses are a meaningful economic engine in New York — with over 50,000 retail and restaurant businesses employing over 600,000 people across the five boroughs, according to a 2017 City Council analysis.

Locally-owned businesses have a significant economic multiplier effect, recirculating a relatively high percentage of their revenues within the local economy, creating even more growth, the Council found.

“Retail and restaurant small businesses are a crucial vehicle for entrepreneurship, especially among recent arrivals to our city,” said Council Member Rosenthal. “These businesses provide critical neighborhood services and culturally-relevant retail for so many New Yorkers.”

“Whether it’s our five Chinatowns, or the hundreds of Caribbean-owned businesses in Flatbush, or the South American restaurants and businesses of Elmhurst — these businesses are key to the ability to start a new life and eventually enter the middle class. But this is under threat. Losing this economic ladder limits opportunity, and contributes to New York City’s growing economic inequality,” she said.

“Solving our commercial storefront challenge requires a multi-pronged approach. Two years ago my legislation to provide commercial rent tax relief to small businesses was signed into law,” Council Member Rosenthal continued. “The next step is a detailed audit of commercial storefronts across the city — this is where solutions will come from. Today, thanks to Speaker Corey Johnson and this Council, we are hearing a package of bills to further support our local retail stores.”

Immediately before the hearing, small business owners and workers, merchant associations, neighborhood non-profits, street vendors and others rallied in support of stronger protections and more support for independent storefront businesses.

“While communities across the city recognize the negative impact of vacant storefronts on the vitality of our neighborhoods, there is no citywide information on commercial vacancies. Council Member Rosenthal’s Intro 1473 addresses this significant data gap by establishing a commercial vacancy registry with a penalty for failure to register,” said Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen, Senior Economic Development Organizer with the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD).

“Understanding where vacancies are happening and who is responsible for them is an essential first step to better tackling this citywide crisis. We applaud Council Member Rosenthal for leading on this issue and look forward to working with her on this bill and others to empower commercial tenants,” he continued.

Council Member Rosenthal’s first bill, Int 1472, requires the City to establish a public, online searchable database of all commercial storefronts in New York. Each storefront’s location, size, current use, availability, and monthly rent, as well as contact information for the property owner, will be included in the database. Owners will be required to submit this information every year, and every time the property becomes vacant.

A second piece of legislation, Int 1473, mandates that the City establish a “vacant storefront registry.” Property owners will be required to register storefront properties that are vacant for more than 90 days. Failure to register will result in a weekly fine.

A second piece of legislation, Int 1473, mandates that the City establish a “vacant storefront registry.” Property owners will be required to register storefront properties that are vacant for more than 90 days. Failure to register will result in a weekly fine.

Int 1473 is supported by organizations across the city, including the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, Brooklyn Legal Services, Chhaya CDC, Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, Cooper Square Committee, Fourth Arts Block, Municipal Art Society, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, NYC Artist Coalition, Street Vendor Project, Women’s Housing & Economic Development Corporation, and Volunteers of Legal Service.

In 2017, Council Member Rosenthal released a report examining storefront vacancies on the Upper West Side, and the myriad reasons why independently owned businesses close, including soaring rents, changing consumer habits, and specific family circumstances.

To that end, she has introduced a third bill, Int 1471, requiring the City to provide small businesses with training and other technical assistance related to building an e-commerce presence, marketing, and business systems. This bill was also reviewed at today’s hearing.

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