BY SHARON WOOLUMS | A protest, led by Marni Halasa, owner of a family business recently forced to close in Chelsea, was held last week in front of the former Cornelia St. Cafe.
Unlike other protests where customers, joining with shop owners, focus their wrath upon landlords, this one centered on what the demonstrators called City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s failure.
“Cornelia St. Cafe and my own wouldn’t be closed if Johnson had kept his campaign pledge to promote progressive legislation like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act,” she said. “My poster holds Speaker Corey Johnson responsible and spells out why,” Halasa said. “Johnson turned his back on mom-and-pop businesses and the future of the Village by joining the rigging by REBNY’s lobby — creating sham hearings, phony initiatives, worthless bills and useless studies to ensure the status quo for big real estate.
“Under Johnson’s watch, an estimated 18,000 businesses have closed. Yet, with the growing crisis, the speaker continues to do nothing but collude with the Real Estate Board of New York to orchestrate ‘political theater’ and fake proposals that won’t save a single business or job.
“Corey, if you have a better solution to stop the closing of Village businesses, bring it forward,” Halasa declared. “If you don’t, pass the S.B.J.S.A. intact and vote it into law now — or enact a moratorium on commercial evictions when a lease expires. And maintain the moratorium until enough lawmakers have the political will to stand up to REBNY and vote a viable small business rights bill into law. End this crisis.
“Until Speaker Johnson lives up to his promise and finally passes a law to stop the closings or calls for a moratorium to freeze commercial evictions, we hold him responsible for all small business closings in New York City.”
Jim Drougas, owner of the Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Book Shop, on Carmine St., also sent a message to Speaker Johnson.
“My bookshop, and other well-established businesses in the Village cannot stay in business without a law protecting business owners during the one-sided unfair commercial lease-renewal process,” he said. “We desperately need a law giving shop owners rights to negotiate fair lease terms.
“For too long our [City Council] speakers have sided with the real estate lobby in denying just rights to small business owners when their leases expire.
“You pledged to find a solution and to move the S.B.J.S.A. to a vote,” Drougas said of Johnson. “What are we waiting for? Until there are little else but corporate chains and countless empty shops left in the Village? Because a solution exists in your Council that will stop all closings immediately, we necessarily must hold you responsible for the closings of our small businesses.”
For small businesses, it’s a battle of rights. Nine new bills were recently touted as helping small businesses. But not one gives a single right to desperate small business owners. Months negotiating behind closed doors at the speaker’s office produced nothing that will actually save businesses or jobs.
It was clear at last October’s hearing on the S.B.J.S.A. that Corey Johnson was convinced the S.B.J.S.A. was “not the silver bullet” to fix this crisis. But, Corey, with nine REBNY-created bullets shooting blanks, perhaps it’s time to reload the mercurial silver bullet and finally give the S.B.J.S.A. the shot it deserves.