to the editor:
"closed for business" (march 5) touches upon a troubling trend on the upper west side-the loss of small, locally owned businesses that help make the upper west side a unique and dynamic place to live. we need to create opportunities for our valuable independent businesses to be both successful for owners and affordable for consumers. community board 7 is looking forward to working with city planning and others to ensure that the upper west side remains the kind of place we want it to be. let us know what you think-your ideas, opinions and concerns will influence what kind of policy we pursue to address this important issue. email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
helen rosenthal chair, community board 7
letters have been edited for clarity, style and brevity.
although "closed for business" (march 5) is informative, it does not make clear that two separate (though occasionally combined) issues are at play here. the first issue is landlords who hike rents to absurd levels, forcing out longtime mom-and-pop and proprietor-owned businesses-despite having no guaranteed tenant to replace them. this was occurring long before the economic crisis began late last year. the question here is: why would a landlord evict a tenant who is willing to pay rent (even if it is less than the landlord wants) and leave an empty storefront? after all, the tax break a landlord can claim on an empty commercial space is far less than whatever rent might be derived. and isn't "something" better than "nothing"? in this regard, real estate broker rafe evans' candor is refreshing, calling these landlords "unrealistic...irrational...illlogical...," and adding that, "it gives owners a bad name, and it looks bad for the neighborhood." indeed, in the five or so years prior to the economic crisis, the upper west side lost numerous local businesses as a result of the outrageous gouging in commercial rents by these "irrational" landlords, including health nuts and, soon, westside floral. the other problem is the economic crisis, which is obviously going to affect commercial businesses both large and small. for example, on broadway between 72nd and 86th streets-long considered the "gold coast" of upper west side commerce-in just the past few months we have lost select comfort (economics), ben franklin hardware (economics and landlord), health nuts, best buy/t-mobile (economics), zenya and philippe children's clothes (economics), temptation gifts (economics), circuit city (economics) and ruby foo's restaurant (combination). as well, h and h bagels is trying to rent part of its space. and although the co-owner of health nuts re-opened as vitamin peddler (amsterdam and 77th), and there are rumors that best buy will be taking over the circuit city space, we are likely to see more stores close before others open. and none of the above includes the four commercial spaces lost when the avis building came down (broadway and 76th), or those spaces that have been empty for years (morris bros., the former cosi space). although it is sad that national chains are having trouble (there are even persistent rumors that the barnes and noble at 82nd street is on its way out), it is arguably even more tragic that additional local businesses are being forced to close, particularly given the ongoing "rapacious landlord" problem. indeed, with banks and national chains in trouble, landlords can no longer count on them to fill empty storefronts. maybe it is time that commercial landlords wake up and smell the hopelessly burnt coffee, and give reprieves to local businesses unless there is a new tenant actually waiting for the space.
ian alterman upper west side