Dozens of Bushwick’s small business owners and community members gathered at Wyckoff Plaza, Thursday, August 8, to rally behind efforts to relieve commercial tenants of their rent burdens.
“Now that eviction moratoriums are expiring, many small business owners are very close to losing their businesses through eviction or voluntary surrender,” said Rick Echevarria, the organizer of Thursday’s event and a candidate running to represent District 37 in the New York City Council.
Echevarria said that the primary efforts of Thursday’s action were to show support for immigrant shop owners.
“This is about the issues being faced by immigrant shop owners,” Echevarria said. “The whole thing is that they’ve been left out of relief efforts. The legislative responses haven’t spoken to their particular positions.”
All up and down Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, small business owners advertised poster boards and signs in their front windows in support of the rally.
One of those small business owners, Santos Alatorre, who owns a Mexican restaurant on Wyckoff, said he hasn’t paid rent in over two months.
“Our only option is we’ll have to close, because we have no other option,” Alatorre said. “We’re just waiting. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Melissa Vargas, whose family owns Armando’s Grocery and Bakery on Wyckoff, said that the business has been able to survive, but only because their landlord agreed voluntarily to slice their rent in half.
“Hopefully the cold weather will bring more business,” Vargas said.
Echevarria said that he believed that advocacy directed at the New York State Legislature might be the most viable route toward rent relief for Bushwick commercial tenants. He pointed to a Senate bill introduced by Brad Hoylman (D-27) called the CLEAR Path Forward Act, which is currently in committee, as a piece of legislation that could bring relief.
The New York State Senate’s website states that the purpose of the CLEAR Path Forward Act is to reduce litigation and to encourage landlords and commercial tenants to negotiate a settlement without going to court.
Williamsburg shop owner Inga Rogers traveled to Wyckoff Plaza on Thursday to stand in solidarity with Bushwick businesses. Rogers, who owns Mini Jake, a children’s store on N. 9th Street, even gifted Echevarria with a molecular-shaped Covid pinata.
The pinata, Echevarria said, will only be burst open when Bushwick commercial tenants receive the financial relief they’re advocating for.
Like Vargas, Rogers claimed that her shop has only remained viable because of the relative flexibility of her landlord.
“We’re lucky, because our landlord has been reasonable, he’s been willing to work with us,” Rogers said. “But we’re all in the same position.”
Standing on a rock, speaking through a megaphone, in the center of Wyckoff Plaza, Echevarria explained that the situation of Wyckoff businesses is dire because, as opposed to residential tenants, commercial tenants can be rapidly evicted in housing court.
“You don’t even need a 30 day notice!” Echevarria shouted through the megaphone.
Echavarria said after the event that he hoped the rally showed Bushwick small business owners that they’re not alone in this struggle.
“If they can build momentum,” he said, “there’s help.”