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Incessant Filming Hurts Small Businesses on Crosby Street, Owners Say

By Danielle Tcholakian | December 30, 2015 4:02pm
 Clay Cunningham says his business, Spin Ceramics, is one of many on Crosby Street that are being harmed by frequent film permitting.
Clay Cunningham says his business, Spin Ceramics, is one of many on Crosby Street that are being harmed by frequent film permitting.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

SOHO — The city lets too many film crews take over Crosby Street at the expense of small businesseses — and has ignored owners' repeated pleas for help, they told DNAinfo.

Clay Cunningham of Spin Ceramics at 13 Crosby St. obtained records through the Freedom of Information Law that showed the city has issued film permits on or near his block 100 out of 500 days since his store opened up in June 2014.

The filming is hurting him and the other small business owners on the block, because film crews close off the street to pedestrians — even though they're not supposed to be allowed to do that.

"This is really the last place in SoHo that's affordable," Cunningham said. "It's a real challenge for us because we're the small businesses."

Cunningham said it's hard to say exactly how much business he's lost from the filming, but added that most of his biggest sales have come from people who came into the store while passing it on the street.

"We rely on folks just happening to walk by and see our beautiful store," he said. "Either the city or the film producers need to compensate us for that loss."

But Cunningham's pleas have fallen on deaf ears, he said — even when he and other business owners tried to tell the city the production companies were flouting the constraints of their permits.

A Nov. 19 email from one shopowner to the executive director of production and operations at the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment pleads with the official to "please stop giving permits to film at this intersection," after the fourth film shoot in two weeks at the corner of Howard and Crosby streets.

"I was stopped three times by the film production crew while attempting to walk to my business," wrote Michele Varian, who has a design shop and studio at 27 Howard St., in an email to Dean McCann, the executive director at the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment.

Varian said she asked to see the permit and noticed the crew was only allowed to use city property, and not allowed to block pedestrian flow on sidewalk.

Even after that, she said she "witnessed several other people being told to not walk on the block and [to] take an alternative route."

"A response to this email would be greatly appreciated as an indication that the mayor's office does indeed support NYC's small businesses," Varian wrote. "This block is one of the few left in SoHo that still has independently owned small retail businesses and we need your support."

Cunningham wrote McCann again on Nov. 20, alerting him that "once again" a film crew was blocking people from walking down Crosby Street.

Cunningham told McCann he had called the office and was transferred to the voicemail of the staffer who issued the permit.

He asked McCann to "please look into this ASAP and at the [very] least make sure the permits you are issuing are following the rules."

Varian and Cunningham both said they never received a response from the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, to either of these inquiries or others.

Cunningham sent McCann another note on Dec. 16 with the document he obtained from the city through FOIL showing that his block has been closed one out of every five days over the past two years.

He said he never received a response to that email either.

A spokeswoman for the office said that filming in the neighborhood is on a "temporary respite," but could not say why the messages from Cunningham and Varian went unanswered.

Instead, spokeswoman Connie Ress said the film and TV industry's annual contribution of nearly $9 billion to the city, and the fact that 130,000 New Yorkers citywide are employed by the film industry.

“To ensure NYC's neighborhoods and businesses are supported, and as we did in this neighborhood, we work diligently with community boards, business improvement districts and local elected officials to balance community and production needs," Ress said.

"We have a full time staff of field representatives that respond to community concerns the moment they are raised."

That doesn't jibe with Cunningham and Varian's experiences.

"I don't know who the mayor is working for," Cunningham said. "Is he working for small businesses or for Cadillac and American Express?"