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A New Plan to Preserve the Small Businesses We Love and Need

How many chain-store streetscapes will fill our neighborhoods?

Think about the neighborhood where you live, whether West Village or East, Astor Place or University Place. Regarding your retail shopping options, if you could pick one of the following as your reality, would it be:

  1. Status quo: both independent businesses and chain stores open and close in response to current market conditions
  2. Chain stores prohibited, period
  3. Chain stores allowed only in certain areas (like wide avenues, not narrow streets)
  4. Chains allowed only in certain areas IF they pass community review first

A group of curious citizens came to a forum hosted by the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC) on Wednesday night to discuss these ideas. A new report by EVCC, Preserving Local, Independent Retail: Recommendations for Formula Retail Zoning in the East Village, says that the East Village has had enough of the status quo, and asks that policymakers seriously consider implementing 2, 3 or 4.

“EVCC has determined that the presence of chain businesses can be detrimental to community character and local economies,” Managing Director Sara Romanoski writes in the report’s introduction. “As trends of gentrification and homogenization continue in New York, with respect to both the built environment and retail landscape, a timely solution is needed to preserve the individuality of the city’s neighborhoods. Placing restrictions on formula retail establishments” – i.e. chain stores – “via zoning amendments provides a path to preserving the rapidly changing East Village.”

The appearance of Subway on Avenue B was shocking to many. With 462 locations across NYC in 2014, it’s the city’s second-largest national retailer. Dunkin’ Donuts is #1. Photos courtesy EV Grieve.

(By the way, GVSHP consulted on the report and is eager to see these proposals considered by our neighborhood and elected officials. We’re also supporting “retail diversity” through our Business of the Month program and support of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.)

The Economic Development Committee of Community Board 3, encompassing the East Village, has been pursuing a parallel inquiry. Committee Chairman Bill LoSasso said later that his group “is drafting a position paper to the Department of City Planning (DCP) outlining the issue of small business loss, and will likely ask DCP to join CB3 in a study of the District to determine how tools available to them might be employed to strengthen our local economy and stem the loss of the independent businesses that make our community unique.”

If new rules are enacted, they would definitely be something new in NYC, and likely controversial. But there is plenty of precedent in New York state and across the country for taking action to create a “community-scaled economy.”

“The market is shaped by the people acting in it,” Romanoski reminded the passionate group, as the conversation came to a close.

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