Gowanus Dredgers call on local landlords to help small businesses with rent

Gowanus Dredgers
Gowanus Dredger Gary Francis urges locals to support neighborhood businesses.
Photo by Brad Vogel

Landlords of small businesses in Gowanus should reduce or cancel rent for April and May as entrepreneurs struggle to make ends meet amid the coronavirus outbreak, contend members of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club.

The move would save the neighborhood around the noxious canal from going back to its rough-around-the-edges days of yore, according to the group.

“Our 20 year old organization remembers the dark days of Gowanus prostitution, drug deals and feral dogs and we fear that we could be heading in that direction if our neighborhood (where you own property) returns to vacant storefronts,” reads a March 27 letter to local property owners, penned by heads of the boat club.

The boaters’ letter pleads with local commercial landlords to give their struggling tenants a break, claiming it will ultimately help them in the end, allowing them to pay their rents once the pandemic subsides.

“We want this business to pay you full rent in June thru [sic] December and they can only pay you if they survive April and May,” read the letter, signed by Brad Vogel, the club’s captain, and Owen Foote, the club’s treasurer.

The boat club has since distributed the letter to local businesses to send on to their landlords. They plan to publish which building owners were generous enough to reduce or cancel rent for those two months by April 1.

Advocates have called for rent freezes and deferments for businesses and residential tenants during the unprecedented health crisis, but neither Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have yet to enact such a policy.

The kayakers previously launched a series of raffles to support local businesses along and, earlier this month, rode off into the noxious canal holding signs urging Gowanusaurs to help their neighboring enterprises.

The club has also put together a list of local businesses, whether they are still open, and what support they need.

The owner of one local pierogi restaurant said that rent reduction or suspension would be one less thing to worry about as small businesses face daily uncertainty during the current crisis. 

“We’re in a fog, everything changes minute to minute and I feel like we’re all on survival mode and we’re all focused on getting through each day,” said Helena Fabiankovic, one of the owners of Baba’s Pierogies on Third Avenue near Carroll Street.

The entrepreneur — who, like eateries around the city, has had to switch to take out and deliveries only — said that small shops such as hers help keep the neighborhood alive in these trying times. 

“Just seeing the lights on and the gates up,” Fabiankovic said. “I think being open makes people feel a little sense of normalcy.”