Los Angeles — Occupy Wall Street may claim small-business owners as members of the 99 percent, but from Oakland, Calif., to New York, many local enterprises are asking the protesters to pack up.
On Tuesday, members of the commercial business district in downtown Oakland sent a three-page letter to Mayor Jean Quan, demanding that the protesters go. Five city council members held a press conference Wednesday reaffirming the demand.
“The impact of the urban encampment has been very negative,” says Paul Junge, public policy director for the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Three businesses with commitments to new leases in the downtown area, which would have brought in some 350 jobs, backed out of their agreements in the past three weeks, he says.
“We are aware of dozens of small businesses in and around Frank Ogawa Plaza where the tents are, reporting 40 to 50 percent losses in the past three or four weeks,” including clothing stores, coffee shops, and conference spaces, Mr. Junge says. “People don’t like walking around down there, it makes them nervous ... they are taking their business elsewhere.”
Like many Occupy encampments across the country, protesters in New York’s Zuccotti Park have made special efforts not to hurt the local commerce, says Michael Zweig, economics professor at State University of New York at Stony Brook, who has spent time at the encampment and will speak as part of a lecture series in the park on Monday. “They have teams to deal with sanitation and trash issues just so they won’t interfere with the operation of local business,” he adds.
"We feel terrible if any of these small shops are hurting. We want to know what we can do to help."
Nonetheless, the problem with the movement is that it is not hurting the big banks, but rather, it is hurting the small-business owners that are fighting to survive in a recession, says small-business owner Carol Bloom Stevens. Though Ms. Stevens' business is located in Rye Brook, N.Y., an hour north of the city, she is sympathetic to all small-business owners.
“The Bodegas, coffee shops, food trucks, restaurants ... These people are not part of the ‘elite’ or ‘1 percent’," she says via e-mail. "They’re simply trying to earn a living and are seeing a significant portion of their customer base being blocked from entering their premises for fear of being caught up in a chaotic situation they don’t really understand.“
Perhaps sensing a public relations debacle, Oakland protesters have formed an outreach committee to liaison with local businesses. “We feel terrible if any of these small shops are hurting,” says Occupy Oakland media team member, Allan Brill, via cell phone from the tent area. “We want to know what we can do to help,” he says.
At the B Restaurant and Bar, two blocks from the Oakland occupation site, co-owner Don Harbison says the initial impact from the protests was “hard to take.”
“We’ve been here seven years and were hit hard by the recession,” Mr. Harbison says. So when business initially dipped when the protest began, he was worried.
But then an article in the San Francisco Chronicle and an appearance on a local ABC-TV station cast a spotlight on his woes. “Suddenly, many of our loyal customers began showing up to make sure we didn’t go under,” he says. “Things are going very well at the moment.”
Even in locales where the occupation is not in a business sector, there are impacts, says David Fiorenza, an economics professor in the Villanova University School of Business in Philadelphia.
Most of Occupy Philadelphia is concentrated near City Hall, away from busy shopping areas. However, Mr. Fiorenza says, “City Hall is a tourist site, used by neighboring school districts for day class trips. So, this could alter some of their plans to see the public sector at work.
"They will see the public sector at work in a different capacity,” he says.