NEW YORK — With the Bronx having some of the highest unemployment and COVID-19 infection rates in the city, some businesses here say it's becoming difficult to survive.
"People not trying to spend a lot of money. Just want to save some money or spend it on something else. This is nothing like before,” said Arafat Igbara, who has been the owner of BX Furniture on the corner of Westchester and Stratford Avenues for 12 years.
He says sales are down more than 40% and he hasn't been able to afford more inventory, causing him to lose even more business. Without additional help from the government, he says the store may not make it.
"I pay $21,000 a month, we are not making it now,” he added.
Some of Igbara's neighboring business owners rallied Friday, urging the City Council to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. The bill would give businesses the right to sign long-term leases, prohibit rent gouging, and limit landlords from passing on certain property taxes.
Electronics store owner Faisal Qurashi says it would definitely help: "Small business owners must be able to negotiate a fair lease agreement with the landlords to make reasonable profits. No longer working for the landlords."
A version of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act was first introduced in 1986 by then-City Councilwoman Ruth Messinger, but it never came to a vote. Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez held a hearing on the bill three years ago, but it never came up for a vote.
Business owners say they blame real estate interests for convincing Council members to sit on the legislation.
A spokesman for Council Speaker Corey Johnson says, "Helping mom-and-pop shops has always been a priority for the Speaker, and this is more important now than ever."
Critics of the legislation say it does not make a distinction between small and large businesses, and would hurt shops without a lease, which are mainly immigrant-owned.
Marco Shalma helps Bronx businesss with their media platforms. He says something must be done: 30% of his clients have gone out of business.
"If New York doesn’t do anything? Whoever is gonna fill up the gap is going to be corporations and it it going to change who we are as a community," Shalma said.
Bronx City Council candidate Darlene Jackson has started a petition to build support the bill.
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