‘New York needs some heroes:’ Pols, shop owners call for rent relief for small businesses

Galaxy Comics owner Abdulilah Esa is hoping some form of federal rent relief might help keep his local comic shop in business.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Brooklyn pols joined with Bay Ridge business owners on Aug. 17 to demand that state legislators provide rent relief for small businesses struggling as a result of the ongoing pandemic — and for the governor to continue the suspension on commercial evictions. 

“This is not a matter of just quaint public policy discussion, this is not just some hashtag slogan, this is just not just some pie in the sky idea,” said state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn. “This is a matter between life or death for the thousands of small businesses here in New York City that will not survive.” 

The group met outside of Galaxy Comics on Fifth Avenue, a beloved neighborhood comic shop that’s seen an outpouring of community support to help its owner chip away at more than $30,000 in unpaid rent accrued since the start of the pandemic.

“As the owner of a comic book store, I can say that New York needs some heroes on our side to save small businesses and to keep the economy of this beautiful city of ours alive,” Galaxy Comics owner Abdulilah Esa said. 

As the laws stand currently, landlords cannot file a new eviction against a small business until Sept. 5 — although, small businesses like Galaxy Comics will still owe whatever rent they accumulated once the moratorium on evictions is lifted.  

And the plight of the beloved comic shop is in no way unique, the senator said, as more than 74 percent of small businesses with 20 or fewer employees require rent relief to survive.

rent relief
Brooklyn pols gathered in Bay Ridge on Aug. 17 to demand rent relief and other forms of help for local businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.Photo by Jessica Parks

“These are the comic book stores, the bodegas, the small grocery stores, the small coffee shops … all of the businesses that make our neighborhoods as vibrant as they are,” Gounardes said. “Seventy-four percent of them have said the number one obstacle they face today in order to survive in this climate is rent relief.”

The head of Brooklyn’s largest business booster stressed that, without rent relief and other forms of help, the borough would lose the backbone of its economy — as small businesses employ nearly half of all Brooklyn workers. 

“This is why it matters, these are the folks that sustain our communities, these are the businesses that serve our communities,” said Randy Peers, the President of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. 

Assemblyman Peter Abbate — who represents parts of Sunset Park, Borough Park, and Dyker Heights — implored landlords to be lenient with businesses that have lost revenue.

“It is my hope that landlords of commercial establishments and small businesses work together during these challenging times,” Abbate said. “Many shopkeepers and landlords in our community are neighbors and they are both struggling with an array of financial hardships.” 

Bay Ridge Councilman Justin Brannan spoke of the need for federal aid to support the city’s small business economy, claiming the city and state lack proper funding to repair the damage brought on by the coronavirus.

“At the city and state level, we don’t have buckets to hand out to businesses,” Brannan said. “We need help from the federal government.”

At the local level, Gounardes is hoping for the passage of a bill that he and Park Slope Assemblyman Robert Carroll introduced in April that would force insurance companies to pay out business interruption claims for revenue lost during the pandemic. 

As businesses look for reprieve from losses of revenue related to COVID-19, insurance companies have turned a blind eye, citing virus exclusions written into their policies.

“This is an interruption on business on a very large-scale,” said Gounardes, who introduced the bill in the senate. “What good is carrying insurance if the insurance won’t pay a claim?”

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