City Council passes Queens lawmaker’s relief bill that would stop city from ‘nickel-and-diming’ small businesses

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Councilman Robert Holden (r.) passes legislation that will provide relief to small businesses struggling to stay open during the COVID economic tailspin. (Photo courtesy of Holden’s office)

With many small business owners across Queens and throughout New York City struggling to keep their doors open and their workers employed during the COVID-19 pandemic, additional operating costs have proven to be a hindrance.

Councilman Robert Holden’s Small Business Relief bill, passed unanimously by the City Council on Thursday, Feb. 11, will provide much-needed relief by extending the moratorium penalties related to business’ outdoor signage and waiting permit fees.

“Everyone is talking a lot about helping small businesses these days, but this bill will actually help them in a real, quantifiable way that helps them save some money,” Holden said. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy, but they’ve been hemorrhaging throughout this pandemic. Our government has to be more nurturing, not adversarial. It has long been too difficult to run a business in New York City, but it has become almost impossible.”

Holden’s measure expands and amends Local Law 28 of 2019. Prior to Local Law 28, small businesses were being hit with fines of up to $20,000 for sign and awning violations. The legislation extends the expired two-year moratorium on sign fee violations for two additional years.

“Small businesses are made of people, started by someone who stakes their life’s savings or takes a chance by taking out a loan.” Holden said. “Many of the owners and employees of small establishments are immigrants, working hard for their piece of the American Dream. The proprietors and employees of Mom and Pop storefronts in my district and all over New York struggle to feed their families, pay for their children’s education, braces and clothing. This law will set aside a little more money for those families’ needs.”

It also extends the temporary Department of Buildings assistance program for two additional years, which assists business owners in legalizing their signs. For the first time, 100% of permit fees will be waived.

“Over 1,000 Queens businesses have closed since the pandemic began, and those that have survived are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, struggling to make payroll and keep the lights on,” Queens Chamber of Commerce Tom Grech said. “Fines for minor violations and permit fees are an unnecessary burden and the last thing business owners should be worrying about right now.”

Racquel Olivares, the executive director of the Woodhaven business improvement district, called Holden’s bill a “light at the end of the tunnel” that will provide relief for small businesses fighting too many obstacles to stay open.

“Our small businesses are not ready to deal with these issues at this moment,” Olivares said. “Businesses have been struggling to understand the next steps to legalize or replace their awnings, and this bill will allow them to have more assistance, and time, to deal with the process.”

Myrtle Avenue BID Executive Director Theodore Renz called Holden’s legislation a “common sense approach” to the city’s problems and issues, that will assist brick and mortar businesses in commercial and retail districts.

“It’s a good start towards revising all of NYC’s sometimes overbearing rules and regulations that these small businesses face,” Renz said. “New York City should be a leader in supporting businesses not hindering them.”

Mitigating fines, waiving permit fees and providing support so local businesses across the city can comply with regulations will help restaurants, bars and other small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

“If the city doesn’t stop nickel-and-diming our small businesses and help them in meaningful ways, like this bill does, the only sign we’ll see on them is ‘out of business,’” Holden said.