Undeterred by the freezing temperatures and falling snow, nearly 30 community members marched outside of Errol’s Caribbean Bakery this past Saturday, protesting the store’s possible closing.
For the past 15 years, the Flatbush bakery has resided on the corner of Flatbush Ave and Hawthorne St. Saturday’s rally was proof of the bakery’s popularity in the neighborhood and the latest public plea to Rothstein Management, the property’s landlord, to renew the lease.
The conflict began in early 2016, when the landlord refused to renew the bakery’s 10-year, $3,500/mo. lease set to expire in May 2016. According to Errol Miller, the owner of the bakery, after arguing his case in housing court, he and the management company reached a verbal agreement of a new lease and a rent increase of $1,500, bringing it to $5,000 a month.
However, said Miller, a new lease has yet to be produced, and he has been unable to reach management for months. Now, Miller has until February 28 to either convince Rothstein Management to let the bakery stay put or find a new location.
Miller said he has been looking for a possible new location but that Brooklyn’s current commercial rental landscape is not friendly to small businesses. “ You really can’t get a place up here under $6,000,” Miller said. “Everything up here is sky high.”
Equality for Flatbush Founder Imani Henry, who has been organizing the movement to save Errol’s Bakery, also thinks that the rent increases make it impossible for longtime small businesses to survive: “Right now, you can raise the rent [to] $4,000,” said Henry. “The landlord could just say they want $8,000 for that space, for which most small businesses it’s like are you kidding? What small business could survive with $8,000 rent?”
Henry has been pushing for local politicians to support a Small Business Jobs Survival Act that would allow small business to have a 10-year minimum lease and increase their negotiating power with landlords.
“Clearly there are elected officials who care about our neighborhood and our community, and there are elected officials who care about our community when we force them to,” Henry said. “We’ve invited all the elected officials who represent this part of our neighborhood. We asked them to come out. We want them to come out. We don’t know why they’re not here.”
Rachel and Sara Harvey are new to the area, but they have lived in several other New York City neighborhoods over the past decade. They were protesting in support of Errol’s Bakery, an eatery they have come to frequent.
“We came here to this beautiful neighborhood and we don’t want it to disappear,” Sara Harvey said. “I didn’t come all the way to New York from South Carolina to see it become a generic facsimile of a neighborhood.”