Three Lives & Company Owner Toby Cox on Amazon’s New York City Headquarters Plan

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Following the announcement of Amazon’s intentions to locate new company headquarters in Queens, New York, and Arlington, Virginia, and the subsequent response from the American Booksellers Association, Toby Cox, owner of Three Lives & Company in New York City, wrote his own thoughts on the situation in an op-ed for Bookselling This Week and other media. 

Other booksellers have also spoken out about Amazon’s plans, including Lexi Beach of Astoria Bookshop in Queens, who wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News.

Here, Cox details his concerns about the new Amazon headquarters:

I am a small business merchant in New York City. Every day of the week my business opens the doors, turns on the lights, welcomes visitors, and provides goods to our customers. We are a neighborhood touchstone, a gathering place, a dog-treat provider, a place to cool off in the summer and warm up in winter, a bookseller, and, yes, a taxpayer.

Last week, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio finalized a bonanza deal for Amazon, effusively glad-handing and back-slapping one another for scoring one of the new headquarters for the most valuable corporation in the world. In exchange for this much-prized signature, the deal, of which the details are only now being released, provides Amazon more than $1.5 billion in incentives to build a satellite headquarters in Long Island City.  

Meanwhile, out on the street it felt like a slap to the face of all the small businesses that work so hard to make this city and state as great as it is. What assistance might this city and this state consider for the hardware stores, bodegas, lighting shops, cafes, fix-flat repair garages, bakeries, produce vendors, jewelers, florists, and beauty salons to help them secure, establish, and sustain a presence in New York?

According to a New York City government report, 89 percent of the approximately 220,000 businesses operating in the city are designated as very small (fewer than 20 employees). So, roughly 195,000 very small businesses employ approximately 1.5 million people. Overall, small businesses — any business with fewer than 100 employees — employ more than half of New York City’s private sector workforce. That’s quite a great return for New York: that’s a lot of wages for the citizens of New York and a lot of taxes for the city and the state. And it doesn’t cost the people of New York a dime in tax abatements, incentives, or subsidies.

Perhaps if I threaten to relocate my bookshop with my seven employees across the Hudson to New Jersey, I’ll get a tax subsidy and infrastructure commitments to stay in New York City. Or, as it shakes out for Amazon, how about my business receives $48,000 for each employee I hire? For small businesses working on threadbare margins and paying city rents, that could go a long way to survival. Or, rather than consider changing his first name to “Amazon” to get their headquarters, perhaps Governor Cuomo would think of changing his name to McNulty’s Tea or Katz’s Delicatessen to celebrate local and vibrant businesses.

In addition to all the tax deferments and incentives localities were throwing Amazon’s way, the headquarters selection process provided Amazon incalculable publicity as localities fell over themselves trying to attract the behemoth and the media wrote volumes on the process. Rather than giving up his name, perhaps Governor Cuomo could look to the vast wealth disparity that exists between the corporation he worked tirelessly to woo and the business owners that comprise a vibrant economic backbone to his state.  

I appreciate the economic impact Amazon and its employees and related and residual goods and services and jobs can bring to a locality, but is it necessary for the City and State of New York, facing unprecedented infrastructure issues such debilitated subway service and a Hudson train crossing crisis, to give away money to a corporation as powerful and wealthy as Amazon? Is corporate welfare necessary for a company run by the wealthiest person on earth?  

It was only a week ago when Google announced it was bringing 12,000 more jobs to New York City without (that we know of) any incentives from the city or state. A corporation titan does not need any incentives to operate their business; they have the money and the muscle to make it happen all on their own.

Toby Cox is the owner of Three Lives & Company, a community bookstore located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Opened in 1968, the store is named after writer Gertrude Stein’s first book, Three Lives (1909).