Thoughts On Saving NYC’s Oldest Tavern And Beloved Small Businesses
This article was originally published in Forbes.com
Last month it was reported that Neir’s Tavern, a 190-year-old watering hole with the claim of being New York City’s oldest bar was shuttering. The owner of the famed bar that appeared in Martin Scorsese’s iconic film Goodfellas said that unaffordable rent and insufficient sales were among the reasons for closing.
The somber news resulted in an outcry from the community and on social media to help save the historic drinking spot from its demise. The owner of Neir’s Tavern then called into WNYC Radio’s Brian Lehrer Show during his #AskTheMayor segment with hizzoner, Bill de Blasio, who offered to help.
The tavern owner explained his dire situation and the Mayor responded by decrying landlord greed and telling the bar’s owner that his administration will try to help him get grants to assist, but suggested that the landlord could also “back off” and allow the bar to continue at a “rent level that is achievable.”
Later in the day, the Queens Chamber of Commerce issued a press release announcing the tavern would remain open. Negotiations between the Chamber, the business owner, the landlord, and elected officials, including Mayor de Blasio, resulted in a deal to keep the historic business open and its beer flowing. So, a day that started with people pouring out beer in memory of Neir’s Tavern, ended with the sound of beer steins clinking, and folks saying “cheers” to a bar that may now live to celebrate its 200th birthday.
It sounds like the City of New York adverted the loss of another historic business, which we should celebrate. Now post-celebration, we must ask an important question: If the tavern owner cited government mandates as a major factor in their closing, not the rent, would Mayor de Blasio have told himself and his colleagues in government to “back off” or decried their laws and mandates?
I didn’t hear the Mayor cast blame when the iconic Coffee Shop restaurant served its last meal after it was reported that it was not only rent, but labor mandates playing a major role in the business shutting. The owner of Coffee Shop said the higher labor mandates increased his monthly payroll by an additional $46,000 a month, versus the reported $3,000 monthly rent increase at Neir’s Tavern.
In addition to rents and labor mandates, when you speak with small business owners around the city, they tell you that among their top concerns are the fines levied by government agencies, red tape, escalating real estate taxes, overly complex laws, major lawsuits they have to settle over minor violations, scaffolding, and the general bureaucracy that make it so difficult to survive and thrive in the five boroughs.
I commend everyone involved with helping keep the historic Neir’s Tavern open, but we should not let this wonderful story and community effort distract from the challenges other everyday small businesses face. The fact is that Mayor de Blasio’s relentless efforts to enact an unfunded paid vacation mandate have small business owners on edge, fearing the added cost and administrative burden the new mandate would add. His refusal to enact other regulatory reforms long sought by the small business community means your local pub and restaurant owners aren’t celebrating.
Small business owners don’t need more mandates, platitudes on social media, and government intervention when politically expedient. They need a comprehensive plan to address the vacant storefront crisis in New York City and real policies that support new and existing small businesses.
That’s why, the New York City Hospitality Alliance will soon release our 20 Policy Ideas for 2020, NYC Hospitality Industry Edition report, which will be a menu of progressive policy ideas that’ll serve as a roadmap, and a litmus test for government officials who say they want to support and preserve small businesses. In 2020, let’s see if they not only want to talk about small businesses, but also be about them.
We’d love to raise a glass with Mayor de Blasio in 2020 in support of these policy ideas.