Debate Continues: How Best to Stave Off Chains, Bars?

EconomicDevelopmentSbcmteeNatalie Rinn

Could new zoning help bring mom-and-pop businesses to the East Village and Lower East Side, and keep them there? Community Board 3’s Economic Development Subcommittee met last night to continue a discussion about retail diversity.

Mary DeStefano, the Urban Planning Fellow from Hunter College who has been working with the board, again raised the possibility of Special Purpose Districts, 20 of which have been created in Manhattan by the City Planning Commission in order to meet the specific needs of their neighborhoods. In Community Board 3, such a district would likely put a cap on chain stores and curb operating hours. Ms. DeStefano clarified that S.P.D.’s are “not banning anything, just seeking a way to preserve it, and it’s just giving the community some level of control.”

Subcommittee member Meghan Joye, though not against the zoning scheme, wondered if it could really reverse a general shift toward online shopping. “Strip malls are closing down all over the place. It’s not just the East Village and the Lower East Side, and it’s not just New York. It’s all over America,” she said. Furthermore, she pointed out, the board’s S.L.A. committee was already working to curtail the hours of bars and restaurants.

Ms. Joye suggested a more proactive approach: A shop-local holiday campaign supported by the city and by C.B. 3, and advertised to residents and tourists alike. Recalling a similar event in which local retailers pledged to give back to three participating schools if patrons supported their business, she said, “There was really cool funky stuff that you wanted to buy for Christmas presents.”

Public member Bob Zuckerman added weight to Ms. Joye’s recommendation by citing a 2002 study that found that of every $100 spent at a chain bookstore, the local economic impact was $13, versus $45 when the same amount of money was spent at an independent bookstore.

Ms. DeStefano suggested another proactive possibility: helping make local businesses aware of city-sponsored tax incentives. Ms. DeStefano explained that C.B. 3 could work with the Center for Urban Pedagogy to create an attractive, user-friendly Website that would help local vendors understand and take advantage of the incentives.

As a next step, the Economic Development Subcommittee plans to bring the discussion on retail diversity back to the full Economic Development Committee, which will meet early next month.