Making things a little easier for our small businesses

Making things a little easier for our small businesses

The small, independently-owned businesses that line our commercial avenues are - as we so often say - a key part of what make our neighborhoods, well, real neighborhoods. We are lucky to live in a place where we can walk to do so much of our weekly shopping, where we are likely to see neighbors, where we know the proprietors, where we have a choice to support local businesses instead of only global chains. Whether its 5th Ave, Court Street, Church Avenue, Prospect Park West, 7th Ave, Smith Street, Columbia Street, or Fort Hamilton Parkway, so many of you have talked with me about the importance of working to help strengthen and support small businesses.

Unfortunately, our small businesses face big challenges. Real estate, energy, and other costs of skyrocketed in recent years. Too many of us these days are doing more of our shopping online. And the economic downturn has been especially hard on those businesses without deep pockets or cash reserves.

Government can't solve all of these problems, but we should do all we can to provide a level playing field. So I've been troubled when I've asked small business owners their biggest problem - and they've indicated it was agency inspectors who seemed bent on levying fines in order to raise revenue for the City, rather than attending to public health or safety, much less to help make our small businesses better and stronger.

So, I was proud this week when the City Council passed the "Small Business Owners Bill of Rights," an important first step towards ensuring that small businesses in the city are able to survive and thrive in these difficult economic times. The new legislation requires inspectors, upon entering a business, to give owners a written bill of rights, that lets them know how they can contest a claim (which they will soon be able to do online) or make a complaint, and sets a standard for fair and consistent enforcement.

The idea of a small business owner's bill of rights was one of 14 recommendations that were proposed by the Regulatory Review Panel, a joint task force between the City Council and the Mayor's office that reviewed City regulations and their impact on small businesses. Many local businesses and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce weighed in as part of the Panel's efforts. Find out more here.

The other recommendations include:

  • Giving small businesses the opportunity to resolve some low-risk violations before fines are levied
  • Providing the opportunity to settle or contest any violations without having to go to court
  • Implementing customer service training for agency inspectors
  • Expanding programs for immigrant small business owners
  • Enhancing 311 to better assist small businesses
  • Helping business owners avoid violations in the first place 

I am working to make sure we continue to make progress on these and the other recommendations - and also to address some of the other problems small businesses face, like the rising costs of real estate and energy. The Bill of Rights is just a first step, as there is much more to do, but I believe it is a good one.

Closer to home, you can also check out the online presence of some of our neighborhood merchant associations, join their e-mail lists, and learn about events and opportunities to support the neighborhood businesses we treasure. We've also listed some other local business-related websites.

Park Slope 5th Avenue BID

Kensington Area Resident/Merchant Alliance

Court Street Merchants Association

Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association

Park Slope Chamber of Commerce

Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn

Borough President Marty Markowitz "I Shop Brooklyn" website

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce