NY Times: They Helped New York Bounce Back. Now Their Rents Are Surging.

Yamuna Shrestha stands in her restaurant.
Yamuna Shrestha owes back rent on her Nepali restaurant in Queens and is struggling with increases.Credit…Kholood Eid for The New York Times

May 8, 2023

A yak-hide championship belt hangs in Yamuna Shrestha’s restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, where her momos — pillowy meat-filled dumplings from Nepal — have four times been voted the best in the borough.

But the business, Bhanchha Ghar, which opened in a modest storefront beneath the 7 train shortly before the pandemic began, owes more than $150,000 in back rent. Covid restrictions closed the store for months in 2020, and business was slow to recover. While Ms. Shrestha chips away at the debt, she pays her landlord more than $13,300 a month in rent — an 11 percent increase since 2019.

“The rent goes up every year, and it feels unfair,” Ms. Shrestha said in Nepali, during a recent 18-hour workday. “If I could save, I would have paid it back already.”

Three years after the pandemic flattened the Manhattan office market and the commercial ecosystem that depended on it, small businesses in the other boroughs are facing the biggest rent increases in the city, as storefront rents in Manhattan are falling. The burden is landing mostly on store owners in predominantly Black, Latino and Asian neighborhoods, according to a new analysis of Department of Finance data.

“As these businesses get drowned out by this tide of rising rent, culture disappears,” said Paula Segal, a lawyer with TakeRoot Justice, a nonprofit legal services group.

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