Online campaign fights to preserve New York’s disappearing mom-and-pops

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4/15/2015

By Ivan Pereira and Stephanie Grella

They were the corner coffee shops, the small bookstores with overflowing shelves, the record store that had the only copy of that rare album, or that dependable neighborhood pharmacy.

They are gone now from the city due to rising rents, increased development and forever changing demographics.

As closures of mom-and-pop stores pile up, a group of New Yorkers have taken to the web to save what’s left of these fading institutions.

#SaveNYC, an online campaign aimed at getting a law passed to protect small businesses from spiking rents and developers, has gone viral since preservationist Jeremiah Moss launched it two weeks ago.

As part of the campaign, New Yorkers have been asked to post videos and photos to social media in support of preserving threatened stores and, by extension, the very character of the city they call home.

“I’m raising a family here because I thought it would be a nice alternative from cultural monotony of suburbia,” said Kirsten Theodos, 39, a #SaveNYC supporter from Greenwich Village.

The website received hundreds of messages of support and, as of Sunday, its Facebook page has close to 1,900 supporters, including prominent New Yorkers such as City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Moss, who has been chronicling the city’s lost institutions on his blog Vanishing New York for eight years, said he hopes to broaden the preservation discussion.

Recent years have seen many big-name closures, from midtown’s Rizzoli Bookstore, to Cafe Edison in Times Square and Chinatown’s Pearl Paint and Winnie’s Bar.

Moss hailed successful grassroots efforts to save bedrocks such as the Subway Inn, which will move to a new home on East 60th Street and Second Ave. following a major campaign to save it last fall.

“Having videos and photos and seeing that array of New Yorkers from all walks of life, up there saying we want this … will spread the word more,” he said.

The preservationist took note of the digital feedback from outside New York; Philadelphian Beth Lennon, for example, said her frequent visits to the five boroughs would be curtailed if the streets were simply taken over by chains.

“Why would I bother going to New York if I get the same experience I get anywhere in the USA?” she wondered.

Rising rent is the main factor spurring these closures. For example, the rent at the old Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Greenwich Village was reportedly as high as $50,000 a month.

Moss wants #SaveNYC members to sign a petition by the Small Business Congress of NYC to push for the adoption of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would require a 10-year minimum lease for store owners with good standing and allow for rent negotiations with an arbitrator.

“The parties would bring all of their costs, the arbitrator would hear their arguments and come up with a rent,” said Steve Barrison, a spokesman for the SBC.

The bill has come up in several Council sessions since it was first introduced in 1986, most recently six years ago.

Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, said he would like to see old institutions preserved but called the jobs survival act a form of “commercial rent control” that hurts landlords. He suggested that preservationists instead push for the deregulation of rent guideliness that he said burden owners and tenants.

“It’s property taxes and expenses which are driving these businesses out of business,” he said.

Other preservation groups wouldn’t comment on whether the bill would curb the onslaught of closures. They did, however, agree that an online presence is an essential component of the fight to preserve old New York.

Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society ofr Historic Preservation, said #SaveNYC gives an effective, unified picture of the movement against overdevelopment.

“It always needs to be connected to actions that can be taken,” he said. “It’s one thing to wring our hands and mourn the loss of places that we do not want to lose, but we also have to take action.”

This entry was posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015 at 4:26 pm and is filed under amNewYork, Feature, Politics, Print Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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