The moratorium, which was established in 2019, expired earlier this year. But if Councilman Robert Holden’s bill is signed into law, it will be extended for two years.
The legislation also extends the temporary Department of Buildings (DOB) assistance program for two more years. The initiative has been helping business owners install awnings and signage legally.
“Everybody’s talking a lot about helping our small businesses these days,” Holden said. “But this bill will actually help them in a real, quantifiable way. It helps them save some money.”
In late 2018, small businesses in retail corridors across the city rallied in response to suddenly receiving steep fines for improper signage. The penalties ranged from $5,000 to $20,000 fees, while installing new signs cost businesses another $10,000.
The following year, the City Council passed the Awnings Act, which not only implemented a moratorium on business sign violations, but created an education program for small businesses and a task force to evaluate current regulations.
Holden said while small businesses are the “lifeblood” of the local economy, they have been hemorrhaging throughout the pandemic.
“Our city government has to be nurturing, not adversarial,” he said. “It’s been too difficult to run a business in New York City pre-pandemic, but it’s almost impossible now.
“If the city doesn’t stop nickel-and-diming our small businesses and helping them in meaningful ways,” Holden added, “the only sign we’ll see on them is ‘out of business.’”
Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District (BID), called the legislation a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“This is a much-needed relief for our small businesses fighting so many obstacles to stay open,” she 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.”
Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, noted that more than 1,000 businesses in the borough have closed since the pandemic began, and those that are surviving are “hanging on by the skin of their teeth.”
“Fines for minor violations and permit fees are an unnecessary burden,” Grech said, “and the last thing business owners should be worrying about right now.”
Former Brooklyn councilman Rafael Espinal, who now leads the Freelancers Union, sponsored the Awnings Act. He said thousands of shops across the city fell prey to the Department of Buildings blanket enforcement, so extending the moratorium is the right move.
“Now more than ever small business owners need the city to be allies, not adversaries to the success of their business,” he said.