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New York City Planning St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Can St. Louis Lure Small Businesses?

by Michael R. Allen

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.

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