By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The City Council’s Small Business Committee chair introduced legislation aiming to protect the smallest small businesses in the city during a rally at City Hall last Thursday.
Council Member Mark Gjonaj, a representative from the Bronx, said that his legislation is seeking to get the city to do more to support businesses with fewer than 10 employees by identifying those businesses and developing programs to help them stay in business.
The legislation would also require the city’s Department of Small Business Services to conduct an annual survey to identify those micro-businesses and help them stay open.
According to data from Gjonaj’s office, businesses with fewer than 10 employees account for 80 percent of all jobs created in the city.
“With the presence of national big box stores, the rise of internet shopping and escalating taxes and fees, New York City’s small businesses are under siege like never before,” Gjonaj said. “The first step in protecting our local mom-and-pop shops is to identify exactly who they are so that we can develop solutions that are specific to their needs.”
Gjonaj and other small business advocates at the rally argued that fines and fees unfairly inhibit small businesses and make it difficult for them to compete with large chains.
“There are too many rules and regulations while small businesses compete against chain stores,” Gjonaj said. “It’s unfair that City Hall can be an obstacle to mom-and-pop shops when they’re the backbone of this city.”
Also at the rally was Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, the new prime sponsor of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, though he was there to discuss Gjonaj’s legislation. Rodriguez, whose district is in Upper Manhattan, said that he started out in New York washing dishes for a small business in the early 1980s. He briefly mentioned the SBJSA, saying that he is committed to having a hearing for the bill, which is aimed at getting small businesses automatic lease renewals.
“Small businesses have too much competition from Amazon,” Rodriguez said.
A few small business owners also spoke at the rally, complaining that property taxes and a new minimum wage ruling requiring businesses to pay $15 an hour to workers have made staying open difficult.
“We want to provide wages but the $15 an hour is actually $18 with payroll taxes for us,” said Abe Shampaner, a nursery school owner in Queens. “It’s unsustainable. All we’re trying to do is make a living.”
Other owners at the rally said the new minimum wage requirements were difficult and signs held by protesters argued that “employers would rather give to their employees than the government,” referring to the fines and fees the businesses often get hit with.
Sung Soo Kim, founder of the Small Business Congress, a pro-SBJSA group, slammed Gjonaj’s rally beforehand, arguing that it was misguided to focus on fines and fees small businesses face when many struggle most with high rents. However, the rally itself was relatively low-key, with all participants appearing to argue the same points opposing fees and burdensome regulations. To illustrate the point of “rooting” for small businesses, one protester wore a carrot costume.