#WeBuiltThisNYC Movement Is Fighting for Commercial Rent Relief

Tensions between landlords and retail tenants have been building for months, as retailers large and small have struggled to pay rent after their stores have been closed for prolonged periods due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Mall owner Simon Property Group filed a lawsuit against Gap last week over unpaid rent, claiming it owes the mall operator $66 million. Gap is asking for temporary rent suspension due to circumstances beyond its control.

A group of small business owners based primarily in New York City is asking for the same, through a movement dubbed #WeBuiltThisNYC that shines a light on small business owners’ very real struggle to stay in business right now.

#WeBuiltThisNYC, which calls itself a grassroots coalition of small businesses “working to survive the COVID-19 crisis,” is actively supporting a new bill in the New York State legislature, S8125A, which seeks to waive small business commercial and residential rent for 90 days for tenants who have lost income or been forced to close their place of business as a result of government-ordered restrictions in response to COVID-19. The bill also seeks to waive certain mortgage payments for 90 days for mortgagors who experience financial hardship due to COVID-19. A request to interview the organizers of the movement was not returned by publication time.

#WeBuiltThisNYC’s participants so far represent a wide array of small business ventures—the kind that have contributed to making New York City a shining beacon of indie retail the world over.

Participating businesses range from bakeries and spas to restaurants and iconic New York City jewelry store the Clay Pot. Photos of business owners in masks outside their retail spaces, holding signs that read #WeBuiltThisNYC (or #WeBuiltThisBrooklyn and other New York state locations) are being posted to a dedicated Instagram feed @webuiltthisnyc.

All New York state small businesses are invited to participate and show their support for the bill. In Instagram posts, the feed instructs people to “take a photo in front of your shuttered business holding a sign with “#WeBuiltThisNYC” (or the hashtag with your city). Tag @webuiltthisnyc with the caption: We are small businesses demanding rent relief, lease renegotiation, and official representation NOW because #WeBuiltThisNYC.” The group also shares a link to premade social media posts for small businesses and anyone interested in spreading the word.

WeBuiltThisNYC social post
A premade #WeBuiltThisNYC social post for businesses (find it and more here)

And the movement goes beyond social media. The link in @webuiltthisnyc’s Instagram bio takes you to a Linktree page that includes instructions for calling and writing legislators to express support of bill S8125A. “We need your support,” reads a page that includes a ready-made script for calling your senator. “Let Albany know that you support 90-day rent relief for small businesses.”

Top: Jennifer DeLuca, founder of BodyTonic Pilates Gymnasium in Brooklyn, N.Y., supporting #WeBuiltThisNYC (image via @webuiltthisnyc)

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JCK Magazine Editor