By Bill Parry
City Comptroller Scott Stringer took a walking tour of small businesses in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst with the 82nd Street Partnership, community leaders and advocates after releasing the findings of his Red Tape Commission.
Over the last year, the commission held hearings in each of the boroughs and conducted an online survey of 300 business owners to better understand the challenges they faced in the city.
“Queens’ 45,000 small businesses are the economic backbone of this borough, employing 182,500 New Yorkers, but as my Red Tape Commission found, too often government has been an obstacle rather than a partner to success,” Stringer said March 31. “Small business owners deserve better than this. We put forward 60 recommendations that will break through the bureaucracy, hold agencies accountable, and cut the red tape that is holding businesses in our city back.”
During his visit, Stringer discussed many of the difficulties small businesses face, including the painfully slow approval process and inadequate communication from city agencies. Nearly one-third of small business owners wait six months or longer for approvals they need from the city to open their business, and four in 10 said they had to hire expediters to navigate agency bureaucracy, a labyrinth that includes more than 6,000 rules, 250 licenses and permits, and 15 agencies.
“When it takes months on end to get permits and half of business owners don’t feel like they get a fair shake from the city, it’s time to take a sledgehammer to the bureaucracy,” Stringer said.
He spoke with several shop owners about some of the recommendations in the commission’s 61-page report such as creating clear timelines for permit approvals, improved services for owners with limited English proficiency, and making better use of technology for small businesses. Asked to identify their single greatest frustration with city government, fines and inspections were cited by 20 percent of respondents as the most common complaint, followed by agency response times at 18 percent and high taxes and fees from 17 percent of the respondents.
“If we want to expand economic opportunity and give every New Yorker a fair chance to make it in our city,” Stringer said, “we need to cut the red tape that is holding small businesses back.”
Stringer spoke at length with Ali Hussein, 50, the owner of Brands & Co., a clothing store 37-57 82nd St. Hussein is currently paying $14,500 for his 1,700-square-foot shop.
“I’ve had six stores since 1989,” He said. “In 1990 I was paying $1,500 for a 1,000-square-foot store and everything was good. The rent would go up just 5 percent every year. Now, when a lease expires, the landlords want to increase it by up to 50 percent to chase the small businesses out to make way for the bigger chains. Small businesses are slowly dying.”
Stringer agreed and said the de Blasio administration and City Council are discussing several proposals that would help alleviate rent costs. Leslie Ramos, the executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, pointed out that Hussein’s business was losing foot traffic after the MTA closed off an entrance for repairs at the No. 7 subway station on his side of the street, without any notice.
“It’s a classic example of government not working with the BID,” Stringer said. “When the MTA shuts down a station entrance in the middle of the night, it has to at least notify the businesses that would be affected so they could better prepare.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr