I am an owner of Talking Leaves Books, an independent, co-op bookstore in Buffalo. We’ve always sought be a community center and a community resource where diverse and alternative populations can access books that most other stores don’t stock.
Buffalo used to have several other independent bookstores, but now we are the only one left. Many stores struggled to survive the economic downturn in the 1980s. Large corporate bookstores displaced the remaining local bookstores in the 1990s.
We have been able to remain in business and open a second store because we have identified ourselves as an integral part of the community.
I never approached the Erie County IDA or considered pursuing the Empire Zone program for sources of funding. There is nothing transparent about the IDA application process or what funding is available to small businesses. It seems that IDA subsidies rarely benefit small businesses and that they go to big wheelers and dealers who can manipulate the system to their advantage.
I’ve seen IDAs give subsidies to big businesses that really don’t need the help, to out-of-state companies, or to companies with bad track records that don’t reinvest in our communities or create the jobs they say they will. Without accountability, economic development subsidies are merely hand-outs to corporations. Although we have not been directly affected by another company getting IDA funding, I am concerned that a national chain like Barnes and Noble could get public subsidies to develop a location in the city that could negatively impact us.
IDAs should encourage small businesses, and should contain standards that guarantee subsidies actually create jobs and don’t drive local small businesses out of business. When an individual or a small business owner takes a loan from a bank, that person has to meet certain standards. It doesn’t make sense that there aren’t accountability standards in place with IDAs, especially because public money is being used, which should create a higher level of responsibility to the community.