As a number of booksellers know first hand in urban areas from New York City to San Francisco, rents have begun soaring. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance by Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell examines the problem.
In “Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It,” American Booksellers Association president Betsy Burton, owner of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, is quoted as saying, “The rents have come to be the most critical issue in the survival of locally owned businesses." According to the report, the problem isn’t limited to affluent areas, but places like the Bronx which have seen large jumps in evictions of small businesses and increases in chains.
National chains, LaVecchia told Bookselling This Week, actually pay less than indies because they have a credit rating that allows property owners to get better terms on their mortgage.
Another part of the threat to indies is the movement toward walkable cities, which has made downtown areas more desirable. In some places, communities are taking down older buildings and replacing them with ones more suited to chains.
Among possible solutions, the reports suggests protecting established commercial districts and promoting building ownership among small businesses. In Seattle, for example, Mayor Ed Murray will convene an advisory committee to examine commercial affordability in the city.
“Even without rising commercial rents and a changing built environment,” the report concludes, “strengthening its independent business sector is in a city’s best interests.”