THE BLOG
08/02/2010 12:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Slicing Away Some of Suburbia

There are so many vacant stores in my area that the disappearance of another storefront pizza parlor shouldn't have had much of an impact on me. I'm a vegan who never even tasted the pizza at Bella Nonna (though my family liked their food well enough), and there are as many pizzerias within a few miles of my house as there are slices in a large pizza. Yet the recent failure of this local business has been bothering me a lot.

According to a neighboring business owner, the pizzeria's owner was forced to close by the landlord after falling behind in the rent. I have no clue if the proprietor of the shuttered pizzeria tried to negotiate with the landlord. In my real estate law practice, I've assisted some of my commercial clients in receiving rent reductions and talked other landlords into extending lease terms without any increases in payments. Such concessions helped some shopkeepers and service businesses stay open, even if their lines of credit were curtailed or cut off. However, there have been just as many landlords who flatly refused to renegotiate or offer any incentives to keep an occupant from seeking more favorable terms down the turnpike. The end result is that the landlords often only gain more empty stores.

No property owner has to take less than desired or deserved; there may be lots of reasons why a landlord won't -- or can't -- negotiate. But some of the reasons I've been given don't make a lot of sense to me as a fellow business operator. As examples, there's the rationale that "if I give your client a reduction I'll have to do it for everyone" to the baton-passing excuse that "the bank won't consent to this center generating any less income." In negotiations on behalf of tenants, I've always countered the first argument to landlord's counsel by suggesting that keeping a lot of paying proprietors satisfied seems preferable to losing them one by one. As for stubborn banks, I defy my intractable colleague to explain how having a lack of occupants in a shopping center was likely to delight any controlling financial institution.

Again, I don't know if the pizzeria's landlord was mulishly obstinate about taking less money. I have no notion about how bustling Bella Nonna's business was before it fell behind in the rent, though I suspect that the lack of cars out front during peak pizza hours was a major clue that it wasn't selling enough slices, calzones, and garlic knots to keep its ovens operating. What's bothering me about the closing of this particular eatery is not that there is one less business in a nondescript strip shopping center, but that there are proprietors failing in just about every business area around town. Each closure equates to less employment and dampens depressed real estate values even further. After all, who wants to settle in a suburban setting devoid of delis, hair salons, shoe stores and pizza parlors?