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Officials Seek Small Business Protections After Uptown Shops Booted

 Coltown Properties evicted eight small businesses on Broadway between 162nd and 163rd Street.
Washington Heights Small Businesses
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WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A host of longtime retail stores are being forced to close to make way for a large restaurant on Broadway, leading officials to press for more protections for small businesses.

Some of the eight businesses, which occupy the eastern side of the street between 162nd and 163rd Street, have been in the Uptown community for almost 40 years. They include a restaurant, a barbershop, two clothing stores and a tax preparer.

The business owners said their landlord, Coltown Properties, informed them in March that they had 30 days to vacate their premises.

Working with the office of City Councilman Mark Levine and the Legal Aid Society, the owners were able to negotiate a longer transition time, but they must still move out by the end of June, Levine’s office and Legal Aid lawyers said.

Coltown Properties, a partnership between real estate investors Israel Weinberger and Steven Neuman, bought 3880 Broadway in January 2012 as part of a $31 million purchase that included five Washington Heights buildings.

The business owners said that despite repeated requests, Coltown refused to give them leases when they took over the building. The owners paid rent on a month-to-month basis, a situation that left them more vulnerable to eviction, said Susan Chase, an attorney with Legal Aid who helped with the negotiations.

“If you don’t have a lease, you can be evicted in 30 days,” she said. “Having a lease gives you until the end of the terms for that lease.”

Legal Aid negotiated terms for six of the businesses, including an additional three months to move, or financial incentives for businesses that cleared out before June 30.

“I think the business owners were pleased to have more time, but it’s difficult,” Chase explained. “These businesses are very connected to this community. They can’t just move to another neighborhood.”

Coltown did not return a request for comment. Levine and Chase said they heard a restaurant was slated for the vacated spaces, but no additional details were available.

Fior Pagan, owner of shoe and accessory store Dinoliza Novedades, said she has had a difficult time with the transition.

“It’s very stressful,” Pagan said in Spanish through a translator Wednesday.

She has been looking for a new space, but said the costs are prohibitive for a small business owner.

“It’s costing about $65,000,” she said. “Wherever you go they are asking for six months deposit.”

Pagan said that was not the case when she rented her current location a decade ago.

When asked what her business meant to her, Pagan had one word.

“Todo,” she said, meaning "everything."

George Fernandez, chairman of Community Board 12, said this is becoming an all-too-common problem Uptown.

“If you look around you, you see many vacant storefronts," Fernandez told those gathered at a press conference Wednesday. "We have no protections against landlords.”

Levine said that communities need to raise the alarm about small businesses threatened by higher rents.

“Collectively, the businesses on this block have been in operation for over 80 years," Levine said, adding he has been working with Legal Aid's Community Development Project to support small businesses.

Tyrone Stevens, a spokesman for Levine's office, said the councilman is working with his colleagues to develop ways to head off these issues before they start.

Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy recently introduced a resolution co-sponsored by Levine calling for a property tax credit for landlords who limit rent increases for small business owners when they renew their leases.

Cornegy has also called for a bill that would ensure commercial tenants receive the same protections as residential tenants, though the measure has yet to be introduced.