Bronx residents and elected officials rallied January 23, 2021 at an immigrant-run Riverdale coffee shop at risk of closing due to the coronavirus pandemic to call on elected officials to pass legislation aimed at rent relief for commercial businesses and the commercial vacancy tax.
Buunni Coffee, at 3702 Riverdale Avenue, is being forced to close by the end of January because its landlord will no longer accept a reasonable rent during the pandemic. Buunni has been a vital part of the neighborhood, a center for local activism, art, and music for the past 3 years. It is an example of thousands of small businesses essential to their neighborhoods that are being forced to close, with the loss of badly needed jobs.
Sarina Prabasi, co-founder of Buunni Coffee and author of The Coffeehouse Resistance, said, “Small businesses faced serious problems before CoViD, and now the pandemic has brought us to a breaking point. This is not about any one business. It’s beyond time to create bold, comprehensive support for the smallest of businesses and our workers. We have an opportunity to address long-standing inequities, to level the playing field and to invest in our neighborhoods for the long term. But this will take courage and political will from our elected representatives.”
State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx/Westchester) said, “Buunni is an integral part of District 34 – my district office is just down the hill, and my team has made many trips to the shop to pick up coffee and treats to get us through our long work days. But far beyond their amazing coffee and food, Buunni has nourished the collective consciousness of Riverdale. The pandemic has financially devastated so many of the small businesses at the heart of our communities, and it is crucial that we enact measures for market and financial relief, including a commercial vacancy tax. I remain committed to working with my colleagues in the State Senate to rebuild our local economies, and support the small businesses, like Buunni Coffee, that make District 34 so special.”
Senator Gustavo Rivera said, “Immigrant-owned small businesses, such as Buunni Coffee, have become one of the biggest casualties of the CoViD-19 pandemic with them closing at an alarming rate all across the City, including the Bronx. The federal government’s inaction has left hard working businesses owners such as Ms. Prabasi at risk of losing their livelihoods and our borough in danger of a deeper economic crisis. I join local leaders and Riverdale residents in calling on our local government to fill the void left by Washington and enact legislation that will help businesses like Buunni Coffee to remain open and successfully recover from this unprecedented crisis.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “Small businesses have been hit hard by CoViD-19, as any New Yorker can tell from the skyrocketing number of storefront vacancies across the city. I’m proud to carry the commercial vacancy tax legislation (S.83) in Albany with Assemblymember Deborah Glick. We need to incentivize landlords to keep these community anchors in place, not hold out for national chain retailers. Thank you Senator Biaggi for supporting small businesses in your district, I look forward to working with you on proposals to support mom and pop shops across the state.”
Council Member Brad Lander said, “The closure of Buunni Coffee is a sad loss for the Riverdale community. The federal government under the previous administration did not do nearly enough to help local businesses like Buunni survive this crisis, but this loss was not unavoidable. Our city and our state have tools to address the immediate commercial rent crisis and the longer term affordability crisis, but we have not used them. Establishing stable, affordable long-term leases, taxing vacancies that drive up prices, and stabilizing commercial rents will help small businesses get through this crisis and provide a foundation for economic recovery in our communities.”
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said, “Immigrant owned small businesses are the lifeblood of the local economy and most at risk of not surviving the coronavirus pandemic. We have got to stop the bleeding, by passing commercial rent control and the Small Business Jobs Survival Act now to keep communities strong. It is unacceptable that billion dollar corporations get a bailout while local businesses have to fend for themselves”
Mino Lora, educator and nonprofit executive director, said, “Small businesses are the heart and soul of every community. The federal government has failed to provide enough support to help them survive this pandemic. That may change, but meanwhile New York City and State must act now before we lose more businesses. State and City legislators have already written bills that can make a difference. Now we must give them the support they need to get those bills passed now.”
Jessica Haller, climate activist and tech entrepreneur, said,”It was wonderful to welcome Buunni, first, to the Riverdale Y Sunday Market so many years ago and then to enjoy the warmth of the coffee shop. It is terrible to see this location fall victim to CoViD, and it stands as a reminder of the failing of the Federal Government to support our communities. We can do better, and we will. I thank Mino for organizing this important gathering.”
Abigail Martin, Columbia School of Social Work, said, “Small businesses throughout our city are hurting now more than ever. Some, like Buunni Coffee, have been forced to close their doors forever. All too often, landlords squeeze small businesses with unreasonable rents, hoping for bigger payouts down the road. For NYC to recover, we must act now to revitalize small businesses – they are the lifeblood of our communities.”
Buunni is not alone. The Partnership for New York City estimates that about one-third of the city’s 240,000 small businesses will not survive, not because they are not good businesses, but because of the pandemic. And with them will go thousands of jobs and all they contribute to the vitality of their neighborhoods.
The federal government has failed. Less than 1% of Bronx businesses received a federal PPP loan, and even fewer were business owners of color. Immigrants own over half of NYC’s small businesses and make up a third of our district’s population.
New York has to step up to save our small businesses, the key to our economic recovery. Three laws have already been proposed to help. Our elected officials must pass them now:
- Pass the Commercial Vacancy Tax Bill in the NY State Senate.
- Pass the State and City Recovery Lease Program
- Pass City Council’s Small Business Jobs Survival Act which targets the commercial lease process.
- Pass City Council’s Commercial Rent Stabilization Bill
Bronx residents are also being asked to sign a petition, supporting the proposed legislation in support of Buunni Coffee and other small businesses.
To sign the petition, please visit here.