The Issue

Small, independently owned storefront businesses are the cornerstone of a vibrant urban landscape. They preserve the identity of a block or a neighborhood. They offer stability, and contain history. They provide goods and services that are not otherwise available. They donate to local causes, sponsor neighborhood celebrations, and host local events. They provide a foothold in the US economy for immigrant entrepreneurs and workers. They provide jobs, and support livelihoods.1


In New York City, the proprietors of these valuable institutions face formidable challenges. Some experience  abrupt increases in the rent or the property taxes they have to pay, particularly in gentrifying areas of the city. Others see sweeping demographic changes in the neighborhoods where they ply their trade, and declining demand for the goods and services they have to offer. Still others tell of excessive and unfair inspections, regulations, fees, or penalties on the part of city agencies.

In their struggles against these obstacles, independent business owners often find that the deck is stacked against them. They have little legal leverage in their negotiations with landlords. They confront social, economic, or technological barriers that prevent them from adapting to a changing clientele or dealing effectively with government regulators. Meanwhile, they face escalating competition on all sides – from online retailers, from chain stores, and from other merchants willing to stake their livelihood on the risky proposition of owning a storefront business in New York City.2


In the last few years, elected officials and the media have begun to acknowledge the plight of small, independent businesses in the city. Blogs like Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York have called attention to the loss of valuable landmark institutions due to unregulated commercial rent markets and municipal rezoning. Local elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, have put forth competing legislative measures that would seek to relieve some of the economic pressure faced by small business owners in the city.

Attention to the precarious position of small business is growing. But is it enough?

Explore our website to find profiles of small business owners across the city who are conducting their own individual struggles against the crosscurrents of economic, social, and policy change in the city. For more information, or to contribute to one of the campaigns that seeks to protect small businesses in the city, you will find resources on our Learn More page.



  1. Fairlie, Robert W. 2008. Estimating the Contribution of Immigrant Business Owners to the U.S. Economy, U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy, Washington, D.C.; DiNapoli, Thomas P. 2016.”The Economic Impact of Small Business in New York State.” New York State Office of Budget and Policy Analysis. March. Small Business Admininstration. “The Role of Small Business in Economic Development of the United
    States: From the End of the Korean War (1953) to the Present,”
    economic-development-united-states-end-korean-war-1953-present.; Zukin, Sharon, Valerie Trujillo, Peter Frase, Danielle Jackson, Tim Recuber and Abraham Walker. 2009. “New Retail Capital and Neighborhood Change: Boutiques and Gentrification in New York City.” City & Community 8(1):47-64.; Zukin, Sharon. 1995. The Cultures of Cities. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  2. Jones, Jillian. “Small Business: Suffering in Good Times and Bad” Gotham Gazette. March 20.; Manhattan Borough President. 2015. Small Business, Big Impact: Improving Opportunity for Manhattan’s Storefronters. March. Available at Uwimana, Solange. 2015. “A Manhattan Landlord is Evicting an Entire Block of Latino Businesses.” The Village Voice. June 19. Wu, Tim. 2015. “Why Are There So Many Shuttered Storefronts in the West Village?” The New Yorker. May 24.