By Christopher of Christopher Street
On March 13, 2016, Council Member Corey Johnson, New York State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman gathered in front of the Associated Supermarket near the corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue to protest the imminent closing of the store due to rent hikes. They had the support of Congressman Jerry Nadler and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
I saw that and said to myself, “Don’t they know that there used to be rent control for stores?” Politicians repealed it decades earlier, but it was designed to prevent this very thing from happening.
I thought to myself, “They can simply go to the legal archives and reinstate it as it was already written!” But they did not do that. They pretended that they were doing something new and useful for the community by claiming possible limited protections for supermarkets. Business laws and regulations are only implemented over time because there are repeated abuses against many individuals.
Let’s go back in time when there were family-owned businesses, little shops and stores of every kind, and owners who lived above the stores. When you walked into their shops, a little bell above the door would ring. Families could be supported by these businesses, which had existed for generations. Taxes were relatively low and therefore not a major concern or problem.
On June 1, 1971, rent control laws for private apartments ceased. After that date, they came under rent stabilization. However, rent control for the stores was completely gone.
At first, we all thought that the landlords would go crazy because now there were no limits. However, like the tiger in a cage, it did not come out right away when the cage was opened. There was very little change for the first three years, but in the fourth year, the landlords started with abusive increases. Rents were going up by large percentages, far beyond what the stores could handle. After six years, 50% of the businesses were gone. 10 years later, 90% were gone.
So what happened as landlords had more income? The City began to raise property taxes. They were not showing the profit they had hoped for and didn’t understand where the money was really disappearing to. The landlords increased the rents again. At that point, the storeowners decided that they had enough and moved. The stores were left vacant and the owners were unable to rent at the higher price. The stores continue to remain vacant!
Now, more than a year and a half later, the Associated Supermarket space is still vacant. However, the suffering that has been caused to the stores is nothing compared to the sorrow that has been inflicted on so many individuals and families who lost their apartments because of abusive rent increases over the decades.