Founder of Take Back NYC, Kirsten Theodos on advocating for small business owners in the face of landlord extortion, how the Real Estate Board of New York hides behind council members' rhetoric, and why she's fighting for her East Village neighbourhood. Reopening the discussion on the monopoly of condo developers, megastores, and big banks, she reminds us why the unique community fabric that we all love about New York City is in jeopardy. 

Tracy: Take Back NYC has just begun to take shape this year. Want to talk a bit about your mission and what you guys are advocating for?


Kirsten: Our mission is to empower New York City small business owners. New York small business owners are the economic backbone of this city, they provide the most jobs, and yet they’re the most underrepresented group out there. In particular we are focusing on getting a certain bill passed. It’s called the Small Business Jobs Survival Act [SBJSA]. What this bill will do is essentially just give rights to commercial tenants because right now the game is rigged in the favour of the landlords. We’re seeing real estate speculation like we’ve never seen before, and what’s happening is these mom and pop small businesses who have been around for sometimes generations, their lease comes up and typically one of two things happens: either one, the landlord won’t even re-negotiate with them because they’re too busy trying to lure a Duane Reade or a Chase Bank, or two, they say, “Okay your rent is going up 400%.” And of course at that point, the small business owner ends up having to close shop and leave. We just had an instance in Washington Heights where the was an entire block of latino business owners who collectively represented 80 years of New York City history, and four years ago a new owner bought their building. They intentionally kept them on a month-to-month term so that they were in a better position to speculate on the property. They must have found a big box store because then all the business owners got served 30 day eviction notices, which is completely legal because they were on a month-to-month lease. So all those people have to leave and then go start from scratch somewhere else.


How would the SBJSA help in those types of situations?


Yes so this bill that we’re advocating for would have prevented that by guaranteeing them a 10 year minimum lease renewal. So right there that’s the piece of the bill that stops these closings. The other thing that we’re seeing predominantly in immigrant communities with immigrant business owners is they’re being extorted. It’s what’s called ‘Key Money’. So for example, their lease comes up and the landlord says, “You want a new lease? I’m going to need $10,000 cash in a brown paper bag.” This is happening all over the city but again it’s predominantly happening in immigrant communities, more specifically in hispanic communities, although it does happen in Korean communities etcetera, but it’s mostly hispanic business owners and small businesses that are experiencing this.


I stay in a neighbourhood of Williamsburg that is predominantly hispanic and it’s not the fanciest, but it’s the warmest. You’ve got kids playing baseball on the street, the ladies gather and gossip around the bodega, the men are playing dominoes, and there’s a beautiful community garden right beside that everyone’s welcome to. You don’t see this often in the more developed neighbourhoods. There’s a social housing unit that has been on the block for over 40 years - back to a time when the neighbourhood was deemed ‘dangerous’ - but now the families in this housing unit are getting evicted.


Yes, because a developer likely wants to build luxury condos. There was actually a similar situation in Brooklyn Heights that happened earlier this summer. There’s a Library in downtown Brooklyn Heights that has been around forever; I think close to a hundred years (I’m not exactly certain on the date, but I do know it’s been around a long time). This library is a staple in the community, and it’s a public asset, and they wanted to sell it off to luxury condo developers. So with air rights, they would put the “new” library in the basement (a windowless basement), it would be 30% of its current size, and above it would go up luxury condos. Well what happened is the community board voted on it in the summer, and they all voted in favour of this to happen.


So who’s on that community board?


Yes, that’s a great question and I’m glad you brought that up. So community boards are appointed by elected officials; elected officials are funded by the Real Estate Board of New York [REBNY], and that’s pretty much where we are. I think now the procedure is it goes up to the borough president which is Eric Adams, but we’re assuming it’s going to happen. What was really devastating about that transaction is that besides the community losing their beloved library, is they now laid out a nice blueprint for developers to go attack all of our public assets and it’s going to happen. I just read about a library in sunset park where they were going to put affordable housing units above and now that’s prey to these developers. We’re living in really interesting time because we’re in a really aggressive land grab situation, and everything is being attacked - if it’s not our historic districts, it’s our landmark buildings; if it’s not our landmark buildings, it’s our small businesses. And all of these various things that are being under attack, all make up the vibrancy and the cultural fabric that makes New York, New York. So it’s really sad, and it’s a sad state of affairs. But I was saying in my previous meeting that we’ve reached a tipping point where everyone notices. Everybody has been noticing the changes in his or her community. What’s alarming is not even so much that it’s happening, but the alarming rate that it’s happening. It seems like every time I walk down a different block in my little four block radius, I see another “For Rent” sign - someone’s getting pushed out. And that’s the important thing to point out: when you see all these small businesses closing in New York City, very rarely are they closing because business is bad. They’re closing because their rent was hiked to an obscene degree.


It’s fitting you bring that up because I met an investor of a beautiful restaurant in Greenwich Village the other day. Every time I would walk by, it was packed: the patio, the bar, every seat in the dining room. They focused on sourcing from local farmers, and getting their bread from a local bread maker. The chefs weren’t big shots - they had simply gone to culinary school and wanted to use their skills in their community. The restaurant had a very progressive focus, employed a huge staff, had fantastic reviews, and Daniel Day-Lewis had even been a regular. But they were closing at the end of the week. So of course I asked why, and he told me that their rent was currently $45,000 each month and the landlord was increasing it to $75,000. So even if they were a packed house all night, there was no way they could make that, and a CVS will likely take its place.


You hit the nail right on the head when you brought up how these businesses that are going out actually had been employing other small businesses: using a local bakery, or say, if their refrigeration breaks down they use the local repair guy who might be a regular. They’re getting all their supplies locally, and all their workers are community based. On the flip, when you have a big Chase bank or a Duane Reade come in, or even sticking to the restaurant theme, let’s say a Chipotle, they’ve already got their set of vendors. They’re not using the local bakery, they’re not purchasing from the local farmer’s market--


--Not to mention that when you walk into a Chase, or a Duane Reade there are always around 10 tills or booths, but only around 4 employees with open tills. They hire as few as possible.


Exactly. And this is when you start changing the fabric of the community and in doing so you start to destroy it. The small businesses are the ones who are creating jobs and employing the community. Back to the Washington Heights situation, let’s say a Chase bank goes in there. I can guarantee you that 100% of the people who were employed by the small mom and pop shops that were forced out, aren’t getting a job at that Chase bank. So you’re destroying the local economy. Furthermore, I was reading just yesterday about a Chase bank that went up in my neighbourhood, and their rent when up to $78,000 or so a month, and they can’t even afford that, so they’re closing up. So you’ve got Chase bank closing shop, Danny Meyer closing shop, Starbucks is closing locations, we are past the tipping point. From a financial standpoint we are past this tipping point, but also New Yorkers are angry. They’ve lost their dry cleaner, they’ve lost the place where they get their bagel, they’ve lost their favourite bar or restaurant, and they’re upset. So this bill that I’m talking about that we’ve advocating for has been around city council for 30 years. It’s bubbled up 7 or 8 times, but every single time it bubbles up, the real estate lobby uses its influence and it doesn’t even come up for a vote. So that’s what we’re up against, but we have different things going on in our favour. One is numbers: there are so many angry people. The last time this bill almost passed was in 2009 with 32 council members sponsoring it. Then speaker Christine Quinn, the night before it was supposed to go for a vote, she pulled about 16 council members into her office, privately told them that there were legal issues with the bill and we lost 16 supporters overnight.


Which makes you wonder what else was said. What’s different now than in 2009 that gives you more hope for this bill?


Well for one, back then social media was really just  in its infancy. I mean it was around in 2009, but it wasn’t like what we see today. So now in 2015 through our facebook group and other platforms, we now have people speaking up from every single borough that feel as passionately as we do about empowering small businesses, who want something done, and who are saying enough is enough. And we’re able to now have those voices all come together and hear about each other. And we’re utilizing a technology called TownSquared which is a private, free, network of small businesses, and we’re getting all the small businesses on this network. So now if a reporter contacts me asking, “Hey do you know of anyone being rent hiked in Bed Stuy?” Then in one window I’ll get flooded with stories - because everyone has a story, and if they don’t have their own stories, they know a guy who has a story. So it’s been absolutely amazing to be able to keep all the small business owners in a centralized location where they can exchange thoughts, and exchange ideas. And every single business owner I’ve spoke to about this legislation agrees with it, because if you talk to them and ask them what their biggest fear is, they always say the same thing: “I have no idea what’s going to happen when my lease comes up. I’m probably going to get rent hiked. It’s happening to everyone on the block.” My own dry cleaner told me this too. He’s terrified. He’s got five years left on his lease and when I asked him what he’s going to do, he told me he was probably going to be forced into retirement because he can’t afford the rent. And that’s really, really, sad you know? But now, this time, there are enough stories out there and we have a way to organize it. I also run the twitter campaign and we’re tweeting the council members, and I know they’re reading their twitter feed because every single time I’ve met with a council member, they always say, “Oh you guys are the ones who are tweeting about this to us.”


Which is an incredibly powerful tool to actually reach someone in power directly.


Exactly, and it’s nice to know they can hear us. We’ve only been doing this act of tweeting at them since March and we’re not going to stop. So when I first got involved advocating for this bill there were only 18 co-sponsors. We now have 23, and we need 26 to bring it to a vote, so we’re only three away. You can imagine we’re really putting the pressure on now. The Washington Heights tragedy was at the centre this summer - we had a public forum up there specifically in response to that injustice and crisis. We were just listening to these small business owners speak - and we had a translator there because most of them are dominican, so Spanish speaking only - and they were talking about being extorted. That’s a big thing. We’re talking about rent hikes yes, but the other piece that’s prevalent is the extortion. So you have these immigrant business owners whose lease comes up and the landlord is demanding money in a brown bag in order for them to renew their lease. I was just reading about a Korean business owner and she just said matter of factly, “Yeah I gave $10,000 to renew my lease.” And the reporter asked her, “You know that’s illegal right?” And she just shrugged her shoulders like, “Ah well, everyone has to do it on the block. It is what it is.” So as far as a voiceless, underrepresented group, this is the biggest one. And ironically they are the economic backbone. They are the job creators, they’re the ones who are pumping money into our economy and paying taxes.


What we haven’t mentioned yet is that with these neighbourhoods, everyone flocks to them because there’s that vibrancy, and that culture. Artists for another example are notoriously underpaid so they can’t all afford to live in fancy condos, because true art is not your ideal, capitalist job. When you have these artistic and migrant neighbourhoods, people are drawn to that. It’s creative, it’s warm, it’s engaging, it’s different so it’s stimulating. But because people come to these areas that were popularized by this stimulating environment, the condo developers capitalize on that, hike the rent, that original community is forced out, and then the streets become cold and airbrushed. No one’s favourite street is Broadway through SoHo, it’s an atrocious mark of big box stores today when SoHo used to be the place of this type of low rent artistic creativity and cultural diversity. Now there’s no warmness on the street.


Exactly. So yes that’s entirely right; you have all these luxury condos going up, but what’s the point if it’s going to be just Subways, Chipotles, and Bank of Americas. And I’m glad you brought up the artist thing too because they’re in the same boat as the small businesses, because essentially they’re leasing art spaces - studios. And the same thing is happening to them: their lease comes up and they get their rent hiked. First they started in SoHo then they were forced up into Chelsea, then they had to go to downtown Brooklyn, now they’re getting pushed out to Bushwick, and now Bushwick is gentrifying. I mean how much farther can these people go? I read a blog in the East Village called EV Grieve and they chronicle closings along with all other kinds of neighbourhood happenings, but you read them and hear these places just say, “We’re done. We’re going to Philadelphia, it’s a wrap. We can’t afford it here anymore.” Because even if you get kicked out of one location because your rent just went up, what are the chances you’re going to find another space in that neighbourhood? Okay so you have to move. What happens from there. When we did the panel on Washington Heights a woman who has been a small business owner for 31 years, she stood up to say she’s on her fourth location because she keeps getting rent hiked. And she told us, “Every time I move I have to start all over. I loose my clientele.” Everything’s so centralized in New York - people do what they have to do locally, they don’t want to subway all over town just to get errands done. They won’t do that. So if you think about it, if you’re a hairdresser or a nail person, you’re losing your client base, and that’s not fair. When you were talking about the restaurant, that reminds me of this woman I was speaking to who told me she dumped $300,000 of her own money in capital improvements. There was exposed brick that they made look nice, they wanted to improve the bar - they did a ton of work. But when their lease is up and they get rent hiked, they aren’t getting any of their money back.


With all this known, what is the main reason these city council members are holding back?


Well when I go meet with council members and I say, “Listen, here’s the bill. This is what’s going to stop the exorbitant rent hikes, this will stop the extortion.” And then they look at me and they say, “Well shouldn’t the landlord have the freedom to make as much as they want?” But this blows my mind because what about that small business owner? Shouldn’t they have any rights to protect their life savings they’ve just funneled into their business? What about their rights? Shouldn’t they be entitled to make a profit? One of the number one objections I hear is, “What about the free market?”, but I look at them and think the market applies to the small business owner too. This isn’t just one bad business that didn’t do well enough to pay the rent, this has happened countless times over decades - it’s systemic. Traditionally what would happen is a landlord and a tenant would come together and sit at a table, they’d negotiate back and forth, and it would go up 6%, 7%, maybe even 20% - but both parties agree and understand each other. We’re not seeing that anymore, we’re seeing 400, 500, 600 per cent increases. So looking at the numbers, we’ve got a problem here. And why do we have this problem? Well because when they come sit down at the lease renewal table, it’s all power play and all the power sits in the landlord’s chair.


I believe that’s when government should exist. It shouldn’t be there to crack down on the marginalized and disenfranchised people, it should function solely to keep power in check. You can sit and talk ideally about the free market, but then these big huge corporations are being protected and legislature only exists to help them. All the profit is being funnelled up to one CEO at the top of a chain that controls tens of thousands of workers, and at great expense to them. And is that fair? Is that the free market or the American Dream?



Absolutely not. You're exactly right. Also people seem to have an incredibly short term memory because what happened in 2008 when all those big banks got bailed out? What happened there? That was okay but it’s not okay to help the immigrant American Dream guy? That’s not okay, but it’s okay to bail out Bank of America and have insider trading as if that’s not against capitalism. It just blows your mind. But anytime I meet with some of these council members, it’s so predictable. I know what they’re going to say before they even say it because it’s always the same objections. It’s always this regurgitated real estate lobby speak. Mostly it’s, “Well we’re concerned about the legality of the bill.”


What are the legal problems within the bill?


There aren’t any. It’s a talking point. They actually held an entire legal review panel in 2010 that proved it was legal. They said it was the most legally vetted bill in New York City. So then I ask them, “Have you ever seen any documentation that proves it’s not constitutional?”, because I know it doesn’t exist. And they say, “No.” And here’s the whole thing, The Villager did an article and Steven Spinola who’s the CEO of REBNY was asked about the SBJSA and he said, “We think there are legal problems.” We think. Now consider that. You’re the Real Estate Board of New York, you can lawyer up with the best attorneys in New York City and you think there are legal problems? If you really had a document that proved this, you would 100% have it. And not only would you have it but every single council member would have it. But they don’t. So the fact that they’re even hiding behind this deflection, to me is just insane.

Who are the people that you need to sign on to support this bill in order for it to pass, and who gets to vote on it once it’s on the table?


So there are 51 council members. In Manhattan I believe there are 9. We have all but one which is a perfect example because the reason why we have the large majority of the council members of Manhattan is because it’s over. It’s done here. Greenwich Village is decimated, the East Village is decimated; it’s all happened and it’s over. It’s now pushing it’s way up into upper Manhattan like the Washington Heights area and into Harlem. But what we’re saying is, “Hey listen, it’s not too late for you Queens, it’s not too late for you, the majority of Brooklyn.” Williamsburg is a little too late, but Brooklyn is huge, so it’s not too late for the outer stretch of Brooklyn or the Bronx. Right now as we speak actually in the Bronx they’re trying to rezone an entire area that’s this massive manufacturing area, for residential. They’re marketing it as being turned into a luxury property--


--We all know how fast and cheap these ostensibly 'luxury' buildings are being built as well. Not to mention people love New York because it’s not a small town outdoor strip mall, but because of the diversity and creativity.


Yeah exactly. Basically the same stuff that [Michael] Bloomberg did to the city when he was the mayor. He marketed to the overseas a luxury product, attracting international money, and all that promotes gentrification and permanently alters the fabric of communities.


Why did you decide to take this all on, to lend your time and voice to this issue?


Standing up for small business owners is a large part of why I’m so passionate about this issue, but the other part is my own family. We have two young kids so we made a decision to raise a family here, and frankly I’d like the city to resemble what it was that initially attracted me to it. Because at the rate it’s going, it’s going to look precisely like that: a shopping mall. And at that point I have to wonder why I’m even here. New York is wonderful, but it’s a difficult place to live because it’s so expensive and the transportation is a struggle. They don’t make it easy to live here but then you outweigh all the good things: the culture, the diversity, the local and community atmosphere that bring world recognized character to each borough and neighbourhood. The characters of our neighbourhoods are famous all around the world - it’s what make this city so alluring. And all that’s disappearing so I’m going to fight to slow the process and hopefully make some changes. So for me I look at the disenfranchised who are the voiceless, and those are the immigrant business owners - they’re really taking the brunt of this. It’s a horrible, horrible situation.

At the Washington Heights panel, it was predominantly Spanish speakers and they came up to me at the end saying, “Gracias, Thank you!” They have no one else speaking up for them. So not only am I doing this because I want to save my own neighbourhood, but I’m doing this because I love the idea of being able to lend a voice. It’s really tricky because all the immigrant business owners who are getting extorted, they’re so scared, they’re not going to come forward, call anyone out, or make a scene. They’re not going to do that. So I’m in a unique position, because looking at the people I volunteer with, most of them rent their apartments, so that means they have landlords so they want to lay low. But I’m lucky because we own our apartment so I don’t have a landlord. And then I’m also a stay at home Mom, so another woman I volunteer with works for a monster corporation so she told me, “I’m really concerned that if they hear what I’m doing, it’s political, so I don’t want to stir up a storm.” But my boss is my kids, so I’m in a unique situation where I can say what needs to be said, and people will know I’m not doing this to further my political career because I don’t want to ever go into politics. So if I have to burn a couple bridges to get this passed, then I’m good. I don’t care about any of that, I just really want to improve my city.

The statistics are startling. We lose 1,000 to 1,200 small businesses every month. That equates to 8,000 or 9,000 jobs every month and no one even cares; city council doesn’t even blink. This bill I’m advocating for was reintroduced in June of 2014 - that was well over a year ago. City council hasn’t even made one recommendation. We would be open to anything - if a council member came up to us and said, “Hey listen, I think you should change x, y, and z it might make it more passable.” We would be open to that. We talk! But they haven’t done that, nor have they put together their own solution. So since council member Annabel Palma of the Bronx who was a prime sponsor introduced this bill in June 2014, nothing has happened. And anytime we talk about it all they have is objections, but no solutions. So you’re an elected official, who are you serving? Are you serving the people of New York or are you serving the Real Estate Board of New York? Because right now it seems like you’re serving the REBNY, not us.


This is a pretty prominent side effect of another issue at play here, which we see happening all over North America. We have people who spend a great deal of effort campaigning for positions in our democracy; they say one thing so that we vote them in, and then they do the exact opposite. These powerful individuals campaign to the left and govern to the right. So is that really a democracy?


I’m so glad you brought that up. So this bill, the SBJSA when it almost passed in 2009, it was called the Small Business Survival Act (they added the jobs title after), and guess who sponsored it? Bill de Blasio, Gale Brewer, and Melissa Mark-Viverito - they were all council members at that time and they sponsored the bill. But now we’ve got de Blasio as the mayor, Mark is the Speaker, and Brewer is Manhattan Borough President and now they all don’t want anything to do with it.


I was going to ask you about [Bill] de Blasio. So he won’t do anything either?


He won’t comment on it. So here you’ve got a guy who campaigned on the “Tale of Two Cities” and now that he’s been elected, he doesn’t even want to talk about it. Furthermore, there’s a court issued document showing evictions, and we average in New York City across all five boroughs, 488 evictions a month. And think about that number - it’s a median, so that’s not even the highest. And then you add in top of that number people like the restaurant owner who was rent hiked and said, “We’re just going to leave.” So that’s not an eviction, that’s a voluntary leave. So the number of businesses leaving is a lot higher. But we had the same average under Bloomberg. What does that say for a new, progressive mayor? Well, that nothing has changed. He’s kept the status quo of not giving rights to commercial tenants, and assuring landlords have full power. The most frustrating part about this is, New York City has Municipal Home Rule where they get to decide what happens to commercial tenants. Residential is Albany, so that’s when you had everyone going to Albany over the rent control laws. People were taking busses from downtown to go protest, all that stuff. So here in all the papers and on the news you have all these council members up there fighting for these residential rent laws, getting arrested, you name it. And that’s great. But what about the commercial renters? They say, “Oh I don’t want to comment on that.” So if I have this straight, they’re going to Albany, they’ll get arrested because they think residential tenants should have rights there, but when I ask you about commercial tenants here, you don’t want to talk about it?


Why is that do you think that is? The influence of big business is greater than the influence of residential landlords?


Yep. Absolutely. You're spot on.


So this bill, the SBJSA would affect all of New York city. So as you said Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx.


Correct. Yes it will. And I’m glad you brought that up because if you’re interested in equity and equality, it’s fair across all spectrums - so everyone in New York benefits; it’s reaches everyone, not just immigrant communities or mom and pop shops. Honestly, the Subways and Duane Reades will benefit from it too. That’s the other objection--the first is the legality, the second is if it goes against the free market, and the third I’ve heard from four different council members in a two week span, “Well wait a sec, what are the unintended consequences of passing the SBJSA? Doesn’t that mean a Duane Reade could take advantage of this legislation?” And frankly my answer is yes, because if it discriminated against any other businesses, it would be illegal. We want to include everyone. So that’s fine, I’m not worried about Duane Reade, I’m worried about the little guy who’s getting pushed out. It’s going to save more businesses like that, than it will the Duane Reades or the Chipotles.


Talk a bit about what Gale Brewer is doing with her Roundtable forums - the media sees her as a hero who’s, “throwing a lifeline to mom and pop shops”.


Right now we have a situation where Manhattan Borough President Brewer has a proposal; she brought in council member [Robert] Cornegy who is chairman of the Small Business Committee, and they’re going to introduce a bill soon based on this proposal. She conducted all these Roundtables across the city - and by Roundtables I mean handpicked businesses, and handpicked agencies that depend on them for funding, so they’re not going to speak out against anything she says. Compare this to our public forum in Washington Heights where we said anyone who comes, we have a mic for you. This is entirely two different situations. So she’s done with her three or four Roundtables, she put out her proposal, and what it looks like she’s going to introduce is copy and pasted what the Real Estate Lobby created in the 1980s to stop this bill when it came up back then. And what that is, is it gives you landlord-tenant mediation where if they can’t agree upon a rent, then the tenant gets a one year extension before you have to move at a 15% cap. How does that help anybody? Are you still getting extorted? Yes. Are you still getting rent gauged? Yes. So the closings are happening and the extortions are still happening so it’s not really much of a solution, and in fact it actually puts the landlord in a better position because it buys him an extra year to shop around and look for a Chase bank or a Walgreens. The irony of it all is again, when Gale Brewer was a council member she sponsored the SBJSA, but now she’s Manhattan Borough President, so she’s putting forward this flimsy offer.


I believe that a lot of these people who are initially engaged on issues do truly care - they’re fundamentally good people who are passionate. But it speaks to the larger issue of once they’re in power, they find that they’re now constrained. They’re not allowed to do what they thought they’d be able to do, and they’re not allowed to talk against the party line.


It’s so true. You know, I met Gale Brewer once and she’s a lovely person - I’ve heard her on Brian Lehrer, and to your point, she seems like a great person, she really does. When she was a council member on the Upper West Side, she implemented zoning. But it was 20 years too late, after 70 bank branches moved in. But now that we’re getting more and more sponsors, we’re hearing rumours that someone’s going to introduce another bill about zoning, but it’s too little too late. Zoning is not going to help now.


What exactly does zoning do?


They call it retail formula. You know when [Rudolph] Giuliani cleaned up Times Square where a porn or adult store couldn’t open up within 500 feet from another? That kind of stuff. They’re doing it with marijuana dispensaries in parts of Colorado and California likely. Now, I live on 14th street, so from 14th to 15th, I’ve got a Duane Reade and a CVS. They’re right next door to each other - they share a wall. One block up is a Walgreens. Walgreens and Duane Reade are the same company. So I’ve got three monster 24 hour stores. And you know how they are, they’ve got food now too. So it’s not just a drug store, now they’re putting out the little bodega guy who if I needed a carton of milk, we’d traditionally go to that guy. But now we have these megastores that are just decimating the community. No one gets the chance to work for themselves anymore, so you take out that individuality and character that comes with multiple ownerships that give this city life.  


One of the major things that we can still do as consumers, to try and take it back into our own hands is to keep in mind that when we shop local and go to multiple little stores where the owner is often working at the till, you’re helping your own community. You’re not giving your extra dollar to these huge corporations and CEOs who you’ve never met.


Right and I’m glad you brought that up because that’s very very important. The whole shop local thing is imperative. Absolutely. But it’s not good enough. We need legislation. I could never order from Amazon for the rest of my life, but that’s still not going to have a quick enough effect. We need the legislation. This is why our we elect our representatives, we can do as much as we have the power to do, but when it comes to a full restaurant every night and they still can’t afford their rent, then at that point legislation is very important, powerful, and necessary.


Let’s end our time here today by touching on what people can do. How can the people of New York help join that cause and out their voices or names behind you and Take Back NYC to support the SBJSA?


Sure. So they can visit our website, Take Back NYC. There’s a list of council members who are currently supporting this bill, and those who are not. So you can find out who your council member is and if they’re not on that list, call them immediately and demand that they sponsor this bill to preserve your neighbourhood. You can also go to and search SBJSA - we have a petition so you can sign it and share it with your friends. You can also join our facebook group or participate in our twitter campaigns by hashtagging #SBJSA. Just be there because as we’re holding things in different districts you’ll be able to act on those. For example if I put out a notification for anyone who lives in council member Peter Koo’s district, then we want to talk to you. So those are the main engagements: the petition, the facebook group, the website, and the biggest thing you can do is contact your council member.


Well thank you for organizing this movement. Most people tend to look at these issues as just so big they feel powerless to them, and when you run at it head on like you’re doing, it really shows that we can confront these people. You’re reminding them that we are still watching what they do, and we’re not turning a blind eye to let them abuse their power.


And that’s so true, we need to challenge them and remind them that they can’t act behind closed doors and that they work for us, not groups like the REBNY. So thanks for having me and for giving me the chance to speak about this.

Anytime Kirsten!

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