Volume 79, Number 9 | August 5 - 11, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Tequila Minsky

Village merchants, as well as some residents and activists who also stopped in, aired their concerns to mayoral candidate Bill Thompson last Wednesday. Merchants said increases in property taxes and water taxes have been hard to bear. Above, Daniel Neiden, a Perry St. resident, made a point, as Peter Gonzalez, owner of Johnny’s Bar, listened. Below, Kevin Brynan, owner of Mxyplyzyk, left, listened as Irene Kaufman, a local schools advocate and Neiden’s wife, spoke and other merchants listened.

Tea & Sympathy’s owner tees off on Quinn while Bill blushes

By Albert Amateau

Comptroller Bill Thompson made a stop in Greenwich Village last week in his campaign to unseat Mayor Bloomberg and heard a dozen angry shop owners talk about things that make small business a precarious way to make a living.

The list was long and the emotions ran high at the July 29 gathering at Tea & Sympathy on Greenwich Ave. where merchants told Thompson about outrageous increases in commercial rent, real estate taxes, water rates, sanitation and parking tickets, not to mention bicycle lanes and street fairs.

“This is a chance for me to hear from you,” said Thompson, adding that the city has focused on large businesses and neglected small local businesses, which employ half of the city’s workforce.

He heard plenty, including an outburst from Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett — who with his wife, Nicky Perry, owns Tea & Sympathy — calling Council Speaker Christine Quinn “a whore.” Kavanagh-Dowsett added, “You can quote me on that,” and after the embarrassed laughter died down, he said he would “drop my trousers and she can kiss my ass.”

Thompson blushed and murmured, “You don’t want to be saying that,” but Kavanagh-Dowsett, persisted, saying Quinn was “sold for services rendered,” for her support of Bloomberg’s move to overturn term limits.

Kavanagh-Dowsett on Friday apologized in an e-mail to Quinn, saying the comment was a bad joke and “a pathetic attempt to get a laugh out of a couple of people.” His e-mail also recognized Quinn’s efforts in helping make sure that Village children, including his own daughter, had kindergarten seats in the district in September.

Thompson also called Quinn’s office, and Thompson’s campaign manager Mike Murphy issued a statement that the comptroller had great respect for Quinn and that Kavanagh-Dowsett’s comments at a public event were “inappropriate and offensive.”

Among the merchants at the forum, Nathaniel Garber Schoen, who runs Garber Hardware, at 710 Greenwich St., a family business in the Village for 125 years, said his share of his landlord’s latest real-estate tax increase amounted to an 80 percent to 90 percent increase in his annual rent.

“I don’t mind running the city like a business,” Schoen said. “But it has to be fair to everyone, small businesses as well as big corporations.”

Perry reported that her share of the real-estate taxes on one of her three locations on Greenwich Ave. was $115 in 2000 and had jumped to $10,000 last year.

Shop owners also insisted that unreasonable civil summonses and fines have become a source of revenue for the city instead of a means to enforce environmental and traffic rules.

Steve Saunders, owner of the antique store End of History, at 548 Hudson St. near Perry St., reported that he has received $300 fines from the Department of Sanitation time after time and has spent days in court fighting them.

“They [inspectors] don’t have ticket quotas but they do have performance goals, which amount to the same thing,” Saunders claimed. He also complained that the city gives large corporations tax breaks and does nothing for small business owners.

Kavanagh-Dowsett recalled that a Department of Health inspector issued an $800 fine because an employee was drinking tea while standing in the Tea & Sympathy kitchen. The summons was issued because tea is a food under city regulations that prohibit eating in restaurant kitchens, he learned later. After spending hours before a Health Department court he got the fine reduced to $400, he said.

While some of the shop owners said they had “good landlords” who imposed reasonable rent increases, there were stories about triple-rent increases. Daniel Neiden, a Perry St. resident who stopped by to offer some sympathy, suggested that the city could broker an agreement with landlords to limit commercial rents.

But Thompson said the idea of commercial rent regulation has been around for 40 years and he advised the gathering, “It’ll never happen.”

However, Thompson suggested the possibility of tax abatements for owners of retail properties in certain zones, “and making sure they are passed on to the tenants,” he stressed. Thompson also noted that the sharp increase in water rates is threatening to put laundries out of business. He said the water rate increases should have been half of what was imposed.

Shop owners also protested that bicycle lanes have made deliveries difficult if not impossible. A pizzeria on Greenwich Ave. that used to depend on cabbies stopping at the curb to get a quick slice has lost the trade and is closing shop, someone reported. Thompson agreed that bike lanes have been a nightmare in places like Astoria and in Manhattan, especially on Grand St. in Little Italy.

Kevin Brynan, owner since 1992 of Mxyplyzyk, the gift shop at 125 Greenwich Ave., said that with the increase in the number of vacant storefronts, it would be logical to expect commercial rent to decline, “but that’s not happening,” he said.

Merchants at the gathering complained that chain stores and high-end retailers are content to pay outrageous rent just to have a presence in the Village.

“It’s like an expensive billboard to them,” one storeowner said.

At the mention of street fairs, the common response was, “Oh, don’t get me started!”

“People are furious about the way their neighborhoods are disappearing,” said Perry. “The city used to be about neighborhoods, but it isn’t anymore.”

Thompson, who said he would return to Greenwich Ave. sometime in the fall, said, “You can run the city as a business, but you have to remember the city is people and neighborhoods.”

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