Eunice Lee is a second-generation small business owner in New York, but she said constantly struggles with the realities and risk of being an entrepreneur in Manhattan.
And there’s one question she said she always dreads: “What will happen next when you re-sign a lease?” Lee asked.
Lee was one of dozens of business owners who gather in Manhattan to publicly unload on local leaders about the challenges they constantly face in making sure they can keep the doors to their storefronts open.
Lee opened men’s clothing boutique Unis in Manhattan’s SoHo 15 years ago. It can still be a “total struggle,” she told Metro New York.
The exact definition of a small business in New York City varies, but the estimated 242,000 businesses with 50 or fewer employees all face many of the same problems, said Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“We need to take a sledgehammer to bureaucracy and say how can we be much more forward thinking, much more protective of this critical city asset [that are] our small businesses,” Stringer said Thursday.
Stringer organized the public meeting, the last in a series of five of their kind across every borough to take the temperature of small businesses and the red tape they face from city agencies.
Not enough time is actually being spent to listening to people who are actually running businesses, Stringer added.
“You hear it in their testimony — you see it in their faces,” he said. “We are just grinding the small business community out of business and we have got to do better.”
Exactly what the comptroller, who operates as a sort of chief financial officer for the city, can do is unclear. But his office committed to use the testimony gathered in all five meetings to put up a series of recommendations on how the city can further alleviate unnecessary stressors on business owners.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a longtime advocate for preserving mom-and-pop stores across the city, said the city can do more to coordinate between agencies such as the Consumer Affairs and Small Business departments to help owners avoid multiple fines and burdensome costs.
And none of that directly speaks to the ongoing problem with rising rents for business owners, Brewer said.
“It is apparent that even beyond that, the rents go up tremendously,” Brewer said.
Eunice Lee said her rent is expensive but still reasonable. Her biggest hurdle, she said, is real estate tax that has tripled over the last three years. That’s money that could go to her eight employees, Lee said.
Lee said she’s working her hardest to avoid closing her store, as her parents did to their liquor and spirits business at Union Sure that recently closed after 40 years because of skyrocketing expenses.
“It was just heartbreaking to feel like you have to close your home,” Lee said.