As we rebuild and the country decides on how to re-envision itself, we must take a critical look at those policies and laws that keep small businesses small and restrict their growth. The taxes that a small business must pay are disproportionate to their value to the community.
The U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy defines a small business as any business that has less than 500 employees.
One of the hardest hit industries has been the food service industry. Restaurants and bars that relied on traditional indoor seating were the most affected.
As part of the COVID-19 recovery plan, the mayor is allowing restaurants to use portions of the sidewalk and street for seating during the phased opening of New York City. The questions begs itself, why haven’t restaurants been doing this all along?
The simple answer is, as with everything, the city normally demands a fee. All one has to do is go to the nyc.gov website to see that the city requires fees for a special license for using the sidewalk outside of the restaurant.
The fees are not openly published and merely state that they vary per business. Why do businesses have to pay for use of the sidewalks which they are required to maintain?
We have seen bars make use of the waiver of open container laws to serve drinks-to-go out windows. This has been a very successful business model for bars in New Orleans for decades.
Can we expect to see this continue in New York City even after the pandemic has cleared? There should be no reason why not.
These two measures alone have kept afloat countless bars and restaurants across the city. Whatever our level of personal fear in relation to the COVID-19 virus, businesses should not be pushed back into the old models without allowing them to keep this expansion.
The city government has to keep in mind that the economic recovery will not take weeks, but years, as we have to replace the businesses that were lost and create jobs for those who lost theirs.
To put this into perspective, in Fiscal Year 2016 the city collected $993 million in fines and fees. Parking tickets, seat belt violations, garbage violations and other nonsensical fines are among them.
The road to recovery for New York City is going to be a long one. While we struggle under numerous social issues, we must remember that the lack of basic needs such as food and shelter, which are provided by having a job, must be prioritized.
First, we must call on our city government to reduce ridiculous fines and fees. This author once received a $65 ticket because the glue on my registration sticker had begun to fail and the sticker had come down at one corner.
The parking enforcement officer felt that was worthy of saying that it was not legible and warranted a ticket. It is this idiotic nickel-and-diming of the citizenry that keeps us struggling.
Second, we must reduce or eliminate the numerous licenses and permits necessary for our businesses to operate. Sidewalk café permits, a dozen different types of alcohol licenses, etc., provide nothing for the proprietor except further expenses and paperwork.
However, the city must maintain employees and waste taxpayer dollars on salaries and offices to just process these worthless documents.
These simple examples have the potential to save small businesses thousands of dollars a year, which can be reinvested in expansion and hiring of employees. This in turn will go back to feed the economy.
If the city wants to recover, we must back those who are most invested in recovery: the resident businesses and their employees.
Matthew Bonvento is an assistant professor of Nautical Science and maritime safety consultant. He lives in Flushing.