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City Council Pushes Reduced Fines, Red Tape for Small Businesses

To ease the burden for merchants, the lawmakers plan to get rid of outdated and onerous laws.

The city council announced on Tuesday that they will be going through “outdated and onerous laws” that have slapped small businesses with hefty fines, and will recommend that the Bloomberg administration change or remove them from the books, according to the New York Post.

Some of the more obscure laws that the council will take another look at are: requiring companies to put their business-license numbers on business cards and mandating large signs instructing customers to call 311 with complaints.

“We could fill up a wall with all the signage that’s required,” Robert Bookman, an attorney representing business owners, told the Post.

Bookman cited the story of an Upper West Side newsstand operator, who was recently fined for making the 311 sign too small – 8 1/2-by-11 inches instead of 11-by-17 inches.

Another issue they will look at are whether fines are too high. In July, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio charged that the city wasn’t complying with his request for information about the fines given to small businesses since 2002.

"We need answers about what this ‘fine-first, ask questions later’ enforcement is doing to our small businesses and their ability to survive in this economy,” de Blasio said in a written statement.

Alexander Hall, who owns Milk Bar, after an inspector found fruit flies from a box of tomatoes that had just arrived. (Note that the restaurant has received two A grades since.)

His businesses are profitable enough that he could take the hit, but for some merchants such fines can be “crippling.”

“It’s heartbreaking for these businesses,” he said.

Hall, who also owns, Bluebird Coffee Shop on the Lower East Side and is in the process of opening a restaurant and cocktail bar on Washington Avenue, has been through his share of the city’s  bureaucracy.

For example, in July city inspectors informed him he needed a permit for the outdoor seating his landlord had told him was legal. Since a permit would have to go through the Community Board, which doesn’t meet over the summer, the process could last into the fall.

“I scratched my head and said ‘Why is it a six-month process? So we’ve kind of given up on it,’” he said.


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