Locally owned businesses are taking a hit in New York City. In lower-income and affluent neighborhoods alike, long-time businesses are being forced out by chain stores, rising rents, and new development, and the barriers to starting a new enterprise in the city are higher than ever. These businesses are an essential part of the city’s character and of its economy, and though generations of New Yorkers have pulled their families into the middle class by starting a business, now, this traditional route to a stable and prosperous life is diminishing.
On Sept. 30, the New York City Council’s Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a hearing on zoning and incentive ideas to address the crisis. There was heated discussion at the four-hour hearing, including testimony from more than 30 people. A briefing report [.doc] that city staff prepared for the Council draws on ILSR’s work to propose solutions, and we also submitted written testimony.
The City has long discussed taking the kind of policy action that some of its peer cities, like San Francisco, have. While this hearing is a first step, it remains to be seen whether City officials are willing to act to level the playing field for New York’s locally owned businesses.
To see our testimony, download a copy [PDF] or read it below. We also examined the issue of rising retail rents in New York and other cities in our April 2016 report, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It.”
Testimony of Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Before the New York City Council Committee on Small Business and Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises
Oversight Hearing on Zoning and Incentives for Promoting Retail Diversity and Preserving Neighborhood Character
September 30, 2016
Thank you, Chairs Cornegy and Richards, and Members of the Committee on Small Business and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to submit testimony on this critically important issue.
We work at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a 42-year-old national nonprofit research and educational organization with primary offices in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., where Olivia is a researcher and Stacy is co-director. In our work, we examine the many benefits that strong locally owned businesses bring to communities and economies, and public policy tools that support their growth and development. Stacy has presented on this topic at national conferences organized by groups like the American Planning Association and the National Main Street Center, and has advised many communities seeking policy responses. We’re also the co-authors of an April 2016 report titled, “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It,” in which we outline six broad policy strategies cities can use to maintain and create a built environment where locally owned businesses thrive.
Our testimony briefly examines the importance of locally owned businesses to New York City and the crisis affecting them, and then offers examples of effective and proven policy strategies to level the playing field for these businesses. Promoting retail diversity and preserving neighborhood character are worthy policy goals, and ones that help the City achieve many other goals as well, such as creating jobs, advancing economic opportunity, and strengthening neighborhoods. Continue reading