Small Business Advocates Utilize Emerging Technology To Push Bill


While city landlords have their Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) organization that spends millions of dollars influencing local elections and legislation, small business owners are utilizing emerging technologies to organize as the two sides ready for a coming legislative battle to curtail the increasing displacement of longtime neighborhood businesses.

That after small business lobbyist TakeBackNYC joined forces with Townsquared, a San Francisco-based start-up whose mission is to empower small businesses through networking and emerging technologies.

“We work smarter when we work together,” said Townsquared Founder Rohit Prakash. “Local business owners are busy running their businesses and are often times intimidated or hesitant to take a position on a political initiative, as it feels like a lot of work. Whats great about a social network like Townsquared that was designed specifically for business owners to connect privately, is how it simplifies information and knowledge sharing.”

The partnership comes as TakeBackNYC continues its effort to find council backers for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA),  which gives all commercial tenants a right to lease renewal and a right to a minimum 10 year lease under binding arbitration.

And TakeBackNYC Spokesperson Kirsten Theodos credited Townsqaured in aiding the campaign.

“We are creating a coalition of small business owners, so we’ve taken to updating everyone and organizing on Townsquared, a social network for small business owners specifically designed for local, neighboring businesses to connect. The platform is private and easy to use, and has enabled business owners to learn from one another, rally support for the bill, and stay up to date on ways they can help. So many small businesses have been victims of rent hikes and unfair lease terms, and it helps them to know they are not alone,” said Theodos.

“In addition, as we are focusing on specific council members by using Townsquared’s geotargeting features to communicate with all of the small businesses in the council members’ districts, notifying them that their council member isn’t supporting their rights by sponsoring the SBJSA and then providing the resources to email them. This has been an invaluable tool to help us organize more effectively,” she added.

City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr.
City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr.

On the other end of the spectrum, Bedford-Stuyvesant City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr., who is also the council’s chair of the Small Business Committee Chair is rolling out a bill based on Borough President  Gale Brewer’s March 2015 report, Small Business, Big Impact.

The brunt of the bill recommends ground floor storefronts up for lease renewal go into non-binding mediation with landlords. If the mediation fails, storefront shopkeepers are given  a one year extension with a 15% increase before they are forced out.

Additionally, Cornegy has already introduced a resolution that would allow the state to grant landlords tax credits if they keep rents down for small businesses.

But Theodos says Cornegy’s measures are based on failed policies from the 1980s that have seen Manhattan turn into a big box store Mecca, and that they are a recipe for doing the same thing to the outer boroughs.

“As long as landlords are still able to give month-to-month leases to whomever they want or even just one-year leases then the bill is a nonstarter,” said Theodos. “The city’s Department of Small Business Services, which claims to help small businesses, always preaches business plans and the visioning out process of being in business. How can you even write financials when your lease is month-to-month and the landlord can jack the rent up 500 percent on a whim?”