A group of merchants put out of work by the renovation of the Gallery implored City Council on Thursday to help them stay open - if only until the rest of the mall's businesses are also shut down.

"Let us stay there until everybody is bought out and everybody is out," Irma Lopez, who has owned the Perfect Foto kiosk for 23 years, said as a group of business owners stood behind her. "We want to feed our family."

The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, which owns the Gallery and is planning a massive renovation of the outdated mall, forced many businesses there to close Tuesday. Others operating under ongoing contracts remain open.

Lopez, breaking a rule that limits public comment to bills being voted on that day, told Council small businesses, not national brands, were being targeted for closure.

Representatives from PREIT did not respond to requests for comment. But Councilman Mark Squilla, whose district includes the mall, said PREIT plans to close businesses when their contracts end or can be bought out. He said the businesses closed this week were initially told to shut down Dec. 31 but given extensions, rent-free.

"We did work along with the Gallery," Squilla said. "The Gallery said they will not extend the time any longer for anybody without a contract."

Squilla said he cannot require PREIT to sign new contracts with the ousted business owners when the mall reopens. But he said if PREIT seeks financial assistance for the renovations from the city, which he expects the company will do, that contract will require some merchant spots go to local businesses or ones owned by minorities and women.

Squilla said that while he did not believe the city had a program that would help the vendors find new locations, he does plan to have a meeting between them and the city Commerce Department.

Council also took the following actions Thursday:

Passed a bill recognizing composting as a form of recycling for restaurants, a step an industry expert said lays the framework for a composting boom. Businesses will now be able to buy composting permits instead of ones for recycling. The financial saving is marginal. But Maurice Sampson, a consultant who became the city's first recycling coordinator in 1985, said the larger impact would be encouraging composting. He said that could have a wide benefit from creating jobs in organic waste hauling to curbing rat infestations.

"It's very exciting, what the possibilities are," he said. "And it all starts with being able to set up an effective collection processing system. And that's what we're doing here." The bill was sponsored by Dennis O'Brien.

Gave four drinking establishments waivers to the city's ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. Those could be the last. Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco last week introduced legislation that would ban future waivers.

In other action, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced a resolution urging new federal regulations for railcars that carry crude oil. It also calls for the city's Office of Emergency Management to plan emergency response workshops for communities along the tracks.