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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Can St. Louis Lure Small Businesses?

This week New Geography published an interesting article by Steve Null entitled "New York City Closes Shop". The article reports that under the anti-small business policies of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, over 83,000 small businesses have been forced to close since 2001. That astounding figure represents just the recent effort to "crack down" on commerce that predecessors Rudy Giuliani, David Dinkins and Ed Koch all enforced as well.

Has this trend pushed small business out of the Big Apple? If so, what can smaller cities do to lure some of the entrepreneurs that might end up looking for a more encouraging urban business environment?

While Chicago has been a beneficiary of New York's terrible policies, St. Louis could lure some of the business. St. Louis has an abundance of historic commercial districts, where old buildings offer cheap rents and low purchase prices. Small business owners can afford to rent a small space in New York and maybe an entire building in Chicago. In St. Louis, they can buy a building -- or two. The low cost of living is a base incentive.

The 8200 block of North Broadway in the Baden neighborhood, 2006.

However, St. Louis needs more than a low cost of living and old buildings to draw businesses from larger cities. We need better urban planning policies to promote commercial districts by retaining storefront buildings and keeping out fast food, drug stores and other uses that break up urban streetscapes needed to draw shoppers. We need public sector investment in infrastructure like sidewalks, alleys and lighting. The business license fees and sales tax rates in the city are too high, especially on food and drink. Most of all, we need to break down the ward-by-ward differences in business and license policy with strict citywide standards that make sense to people from the outside world.

I'm not suggesting that a wave of would-be New Yorkers are coming. In fact, many of the small business owners we need to attract are those who chose Clayton, St. Charles or Belleville -- or Memphis, Cleveland or Kansas City -- over the city proper. The bottom line is that we have to create a city that not only has sensible small business policy but actively encourages small business to keep our neighborhood commercial districts thriving.

I would be very interested in comments from city small business owners.


Dana Smith said...

All great points Michael, something I would add is the city's seemingly inability to get a handle on crime. If the city is not capable of protecting businesses that provide revenue for the city then no one will want their business here.

Chris said...

Sadly, quality of life issues have to be addressed, as Dana said. While I have never been a victim of crime in St. Louis, I have had to listen to the noise and general rowdiness of people who really just don't care if they're offending or irritating other people. People have to start behaving, turn down the freaking bass on their stereos and generally treat people with respect in St. Louis before there is a Renaissance.

Anonymous said...

The thought that small business is quiet business is shortsighted. People who turn their bass up spend money too. There are business districts on Cherokee St, the CWE and the Loop. I would say primarily small business some franchise-y eateries. But guess what? You hear bass sometimes. Nobody would consider closing shop for that.

samizdat said...

What Chris said. I mean, nothing wrong with sitting on the porch or stoop and having a few while having a chat with some friends. But not at shouting volume and NOT until 1-2-3am. Oh, and get your kids inside before curfew. Especially the young ones, their young bodies NEED the sleep to develop properly. And yes, the MSTLPD needs to be more proactive, not reactive. I will credit the po-po for the times they have told my neighbors to turn down their stereo and get their spawn inside, but a general level of enforcement of noise ordinance violations would go a long way. We have a right to listen to any music we wish, but not at volumes which intrude on others' ability and desire to live comfortably. I don't expect complete, country-like silence, but I should expect not to have our windows rattled and our house vibrating whenever a boom car passes by, or worse, parks near our house. That said, I wonder if the perception of property crime--against businesses--is backed up by statistics, or is mearly a casualty of the apparent anti-City bias of the local media and the general public. BTW, I have called the 231-1212 police non-emergency number on some of my neighbors, and I will do it again. In spite of the occasional surly of disinterested dispatcher. Most are either courteous, or actually friendly.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to over-stress the importance of stimulus-like intervention such as infrastructure improvement, tax abatement, and even microloans. St. Louis city's economic mass has shrunk well beneath the point where it could rebound on its own. Furthermore, there are plenty of neighboring small business districts who are perfectly fine with the city staying just as it is.

Brian said...

Outside of the neighborhood business districts, our downtown is ridiculously cheap. A business can get nice, Class B space in a quailty building for well under $10 per square foot.

Papillon said...

I find it difficult to believe that Chicago benefited from New York's policies. While they may have in some small ways, the places to most benefit are New York's suburbs. They allow the potential business owner to stay where they live and still start the business in a place they know. Is someone going to move to St. Louis to start a drycleaner or a small CPA firm? I doubt it.

What is needed, in my opinion, is an environment that makes it easy to start a business. Government should make it easy to get all the necessary permits and such without the hassle. If St. Louis is too tough, people will start their businesses in Maplewood or Sunset Hills. Whoops, they already have. Other things are needed, but that is just one.