Archive for the tag 'small businesses'

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Staten Island after Superstorm Sandy. (Source: Desiree Arroyo/Flickr)

Build it Back isn’t the only government-sponsored aid program that has failed to distribute money to those hit by Superstorm Sandy. More than 330 small businesses that were affected by Sandy are still waiting for federal money meant to help them recover, according to DNAinfo.

The federally-funded NYC Hurricane Sandy Loan & Grant program has about $42 million intended to be distributed in loans of up to $150,000, and grants of up to $60,000, to any business in the city that needed help to get their business up and running again. The program started last June.

DNAinfo reports:

So far, however, only eight business owners have received any money, according to the city’s Department of Small Business Services, the agency that is administering the program.

The eight businesses that have received money have gotten a total of $2.5 million, the SBS said.

The money for the loan and grant is meant to go toward working capital — cash used for payroll, marketing, utilities and rent — as well as purchasing moveable equipment.

But many owners said because of the delay in processing their applications, they’ve already had to invest a large amount of cash to buy all their new equipment, and get their business off the ground — all of which has left them with debt that these federal funds can’t help with.

When it was announced that Build it Back, the city-run program for property owners, hadn’t actually given any money out, city officials blamed unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork for slowing down the problem.

This time, officials blame the delay on strict, anti-fraud laws. DNAinfo reports:

Officials from the Department of Small Business Services acknowledged to DNAinfo New York that the application process for the federal funds has been long and complicated. After fraudulent use of federal money following disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the government has become even stricter in how they distribute relief funds, officials said.

According to SBS officials, out of more than 335 applications submitted, 143 applications are currently with the lender that decides on the loan and grant amounts, the final step in the process, and should be approved soon. Another 40 are in the final review phase with the SBS, before they are sent to the lender, and 155 applications are in earlier stages of the process.

If you have a small business and want to apply to the grant, the guidelines can be found here. For those who have already applied for the grant and loan program, the SBS and mayor’s office said they are working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to try and get the loan and grants out more quickly. They’re also hoping to remove the cap on the amount of funding a business can receive.

Source: nysenate.gov

Source: nysenate.gov

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration is set to scale back a series of unpopular fines that many business owners believed were overly aggressive and unfair. Capital New York is reporting that fine-carrying summonses, many related to improper signage, would be reduced to tickets with no penalties for the first offense.

The battle over the unpopular fines came to an ugly head earlier this month when we reported on the Department of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) effort to increase revenue by hiring more inspectors to doll out fines. DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz testified to the City Council that he doubled the DCA’s revenue through this maneuver. While Mintz was honest about the DCA’s practice, he drew fire from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who called for his resignation.

In response to all the negativity over the fines, the Bloomberg administration announced that a new system to be proposed to the Council which would create “cure periods,” where businesses can correct minor errors before receiving fines. Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg, elaborated on the new initiative.

“When an individual or business breaks the law, violations are key to ensuring behaviors that could potentially threaten the health and safety of New Yorkers aren’t repeated. While the city cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce, in cases where corrective action can be taken without lasting damage, cure periods can go a long way in helping small businesses and individuals follow the law before being fined for violations,” Erskine said.

Ersinke noted that had these reforms been in place during the 2013 fiscal year, businesses would have saved $3.8 million dollars.

This comes in close succession to yesterday’s news about Councilman Vincent Gentile’s effort to reform the restaurant inspection system, which is also notorious for driving business owners bonkers over inconsistent inspector practices.

Seems things might get a little bit better for our small businesses, yes?

DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz (Source: NYC.gov)

DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz (Source: NYC.gov)

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has admitted to hiring extra staff to dole out more fines on small businesses to make up for a budget shortage. The New York Post is reporting that DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz doubled the agency’s revenue by hiring more inspectors, and made remarks to the City Council that pretty much confirm what we thought all along: city officials see fining small businesses as a means to generating revenue.

According to the Post, Mintz’s plan, which saw the hiring of 14 new inspectors, was laid out before the City Council during a hearing in 2011:

“It will bring in an additional $1.6 million in revenue in the new fiscal year,” Mintz told the City Council at the time.

“These staff additions will enable DCA to focus on undercover inspections of employment agencies and immigrant-service providers, as well as [make] additional focused inspections of tobacco dealers.”

His projections were right on the money.

The number of violations more than doubled from 10,964 in 2010 to 24,176 in 2012.

Most of the fines were lower than those handed out earlier, meaning business owners were paying more frequently for smaller offenses.

Fines averaged $966 between 2002 and 2009, and $697 after 2011.

While Mintz was open about his policy, opponents to his tactics, including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, were outraged. As public advocate, de Blasio called for Mintz’s resignation last June, accusing him of using a quota system in his business fining blitz.

Mintz denied those charges but de Blasio’s office found evidence to the contrary:

“Reports of internal DCA documents and interviews with employees in recent days have brought to light a ‘25 percent threshold,’ meaning inspectors are expected to issue one violation for every four businesses they inspect,” according to a public-advocate study.

“Those same accounts confirm agency staff pressured administrative law judges to rule against small businesses’ appeals.”

Fines ranged from $25 for failing to display prices to $10,000 for purposeful use of a condemned gas-station pump.

In their defense, the DCA said that the fines are created by the Council and that it is the DCA’s job to enforce them. DCA spokeswoman Abigail Lootens defended the agency’s actions to the Post.

“Protecting New Yorkers during difficult economic times is a stronger public priority than ever which is why Consumer Affairs aggressively holds businesses accountable,” Looten said.

The Post noted that since 2008, the Council created 38 new laws that can result in penalties for small business owners, including fining stores that sell realistic looking toy guns, tow-truck companies and cigarette retailers.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Brodinsky

Photo courtesy of Bruce Brodinsky

It looks like Momoyama, the Japanese hibachi restaurant located in the Lundy’s building at 1901 Emmons Avenue, is opening again soon. Sheepshead Bites reader Bruce Brodinsky sent us the following picture which promises a return to business, nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy closed their doors.

We last checked in on Momoyama in November, when waters from Sandy flooded the establishment nearly six feet high. At the time, the grills were seen flipped over and rusting while the chairs were strewn all over the floor. As we pointed out on the plus side, the famous birthday drum was thankfully spared Sandy’s wrath.

It’ll be good to have Momoyama open again, the sooner the better. Thanks to Bruce B. for the photo.

Sheepshead Bay Bicycles (Source: Google Maps)

Sheepshead Bay Bicycles located at 113 Noel Avenue in Gerritsen Beach (Source: Google Maps)

New York City is bicycle crazy these days as exercisers, sightseers and cash-conscious commuters of all stripes are hopping on bikes like never before. The bicycle craze has not gone unnoticed by Robert Ferrarin of Gerritsen Beach, who has made a killing in repairing and selling used bikes.

According to a report by Crain’s New York, Ferrarin runs his business out of his garage located at 113 Noel Avenue in Gerritsen Beach. Ferrarin, who owns a construction company, started repairing bikes as a hobby but has seen his hobby grow into a lucrative business:

Sheepshead Bay Bicycles is poised to sell 1,000 bikes this season at an average of $300 each, up from 80 bikes during his first year in business five years ago. Customers come from as far afield as New Jersey and Connecticut, he said, and so does the inventory, replenished by six retired men who scrounge for salvageable bike parts at yard sales throughout the tristate area. He performs a tune-up with every purchase, while his wife, Brenda, assembles the bikes and his friend Richie Delea manages sales.

“We thought our first year was good,” he said. “Then it just so happened that we started at the right time.”

Ferrarin’s business was nearly washed away because of Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed 200 bikes at a cost of $30,000 in damage. Despite the setback, Ferrarin noted that the city’s Citi Bike program, which lets anyone rent a bike at kiosks around the city, has added to the bike craze – and his business.

“People who are nervous about riding in the city will get more comfortable. When they get tired of [returning their Citi Bike] every half-hour, they might want to come buy a bike,” Ferrarin told Crain’s.

Real Estate transactions are increasing in Sheepshead Bay although values are still slightly depressed nine months after Superstorm Sandy wrecked the neighborhood, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal report details the destruction visited upon Sheepshead Bay after Sandy and highlights the glimmers of hope finally emerging in the aftermath:

The area was walloped by Superstorm Sandy, with many businesses—particularly those along Emmons—badly flooded. Small, low-lying former bungalows close to the water were especially vulnerable to flooding.

“Those blocks were swamped, the smaller houses were up to the roofs,” says Howard Witz of Fillmore Real Estate. “It was horrible.”

Nine months later, some standby restaurants have reopened and the party and fishing boats are sailing again. But although many residents and business owners are optimistic about the hurricane recovery, hardships remain.

“People need hope, but for a lot of people that light at the end of the tunnel is still quite far off,” says Laura McKenna, acting executive director of the Bay Improvement Group, a neighborhood advocacy organization. “Behind the doors of homes, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and the businesses, while they may be rebuilt, you may walk in and say it looks fine, in fact economically they’re still struggling and suffering.”

As the recovery continues, real-estate transactions have begun to pick up, Mr. Witz says, with 38 one- and two-family houses currently in contract, compared with the 37 houses that sold in the entire previous 12 months. “Buyers are very cautiously returning,” he says.

… Prices in Sheepshead Bay range from the $100,000s for one- or two-bedroom co-ops far from the subway to around $1 million for large detached two-family houses. The median listing price in the neighborhood in June was $459,000, says Zillow.com, a 6% drop from the same month in 2012.

Sheepshead Bites editor Ned Berke was featured in the piece and now you can read what he says about our neighborhood when he thinks we aren’t paying attention:

“You have the quiet of a suburban area, but it’s still got life, it’s still bustling, there’s a lot of mass transit here that connects people to the city,” says Ned Berke, a native of the area and editor and publisher of the local news site, SheepsheadBites.com. “It’s as alive as the rest of the city and at the same time, very quiet and a good place to get a reprieve from the madness and the rat race.”

As a newly minted resident of the area, I would add that nothing beats strolling to the shores of Manhattan Beach or Coney Island on warm summer nights after work and on weekend mornings. That is a luxury that not many city residents, who often desperately cluster as close to Manhattan as possible, get to appreciate. What do you like best about living in Sheepshead Bay?

If you are a business owner or homeowner still struggling to get back on your feet after Superstorm Sandy, there is help available to you to ease the recovery process.

Asian Americans for Equality and the Kings Bay YM-YWHA will present a “Post-Sandy Recovery Resource Seminar” for business and homeowners, April 18, 7:00 p.m. at the Kings Bay Y’s Sheepshead Bay location, 2801 Emmons Avenue.

The seminar — sponsored by the Brooklyn Community Foundation — will address such topics as emergency repair loans for homeowners, financial assistance for small businesses, rehab cost consultation and how to qualify for a post-Sandy recovery grant of up to $15,000.

The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

To learn more, call (718) 648-7703 extension 239 or email info@kingsbayy.org.

Earlier this week, a boatload of Southern Brooklyn politicians banded together to introduce a bill that would waive fees for businesses recovering from damages sustained during Superstorm Sandy, according to a press release.

The bill whose sponsors include Domenic Recchia, David Greenfield and Michael Nelson would waive fees for permits, applications and inspections for businesses doing their best to rebuild and reopen after the events of Sandy.

Councilman Vincent Gentile, who co-sponsored the bill, stressed the importance of this legislation in a press release.

“Some businesses are literally rebuilding from the ground up and when you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get your business up and running again, you really shouldn’t have to bother with superfluous fees for permits and inspections.”

Businesses that qualify for the special waivers must have been open before Sandy struck and were located in Evacuation Zones A and B or in a building that was inspected for structural damage by the Department of Buildings. These fees have already been waived since Sandy due to an executive order from the mayor, but the pols are looking to extend it beyond its current expiration date.

Here is a list of the fees being waived.

  • Department of Buildings permit and inspection fees required for construction, demolition, scaffolds, boilers, plumbing, electrical work, signs, scaffolds, limited alterations and after hours work.
  • Fire Department fees for inspection of fire protection systems and gas station fuel dispensing systems, as well as for plan review and examination fees for installation of fire protection systems and fuel dispensing systems.
  • Department of Transportation permit fees for opening the street, debris containers, sidewalk construction, vaults, and canopies.
  • Department of Small Business Services permit fees for waterfront construction, equipment use, mooring, fill work, as well as fees for work notices and certificates of completion.
  • Department of Environmental Protection permit fees for fuel burning incinerators, as well as fees for certificates of instruction in the use of and to operate the same.
  • Department of Consumer Affairs licensing fees for salvage and liquidation sales of goods.
  • Taxi and Limousine Commission Fees in connection with the licensing of vehicles, replacing medallions, transferring licenses, and for-hire vehicle inspections.
  • Landmarks and Preservation Commission fees required with respect to obtaining certificates of no affect and certificates of appropriateness.

Thor’s vision for its Surf Avenue properties. Source: Thor Equities

Thor Equities, the global urban real estate developer, has announced plans to rent parcels at reduced rates in its new building at the corner of Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue in an effort to encourage the growth of local small businesses in the area, according to a press release.

“Coney Island’s popularity has reached record proportions, but we can never forget what got us here – local, ahead-of-their-time business owners who brought flair, hipness and edge to the People’s Playground,” announced Thor CEO Joe Sitt, adding, “While it is wonderful that national chains are now coming to Coney, providing needed jobs and year-round revenue to the community, we must always remember the history of this iconic neighborhood.”

So far, reaction to this plan remains skeptical. Amusing The Zillion highlighted a 2008 New York Post article in which Sitt took severe measures against local Coney business operators, by clipping and changing their storefront locks on Christmas Eve, and hanging “For Lease” signs in their storefront windows. Has Sitt pulled a 180 on small businesses?

Another caveat in Sitt’s altruistic gesture to the local small business people of Coney Island is that the rents will only be slashed for 2013. Amusing The Zillion, recalling the documentary “Zipper,” noted that Sitt’s real plans for Coney Island’s future involves installing a series of national chains. In the documentary, Sitt listed Dave and Buster’s, the Hard Rock Cafe, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Howie’s Game Factory as his choices to fill in and replace the Coney landscape.

Thor’s new one-story building is on the spot once occupied by the century-old Henderson Music Hall, a building that was demolished when the city re-zoned it in July 2009. Since being erected last January, the sleek and sterile-looking new building has since been covered with plywood decorated in the Coney Island style, promising “THE RETAIL RIDE OF A LIFETIME,” with info about leasing opportunities.

Photo by: BSH Shooter

Like many local business owners, Paul Randazzo, owner and operator of the world famous Randazzo’s Clam Bar (2017 Emmons Avenue), is rushing to reopen his doors to cash in on the upcoming lucrative holiday sales week. Until his desperately missed clams are back for sale, though, Randazzo himself refuses to indulge in any clam until they are served from his kitchen, according to a report by NY 1.

Since Superstorm Sandy closed Randazzo’s down in October, the clam bar has been doing all it can to reopen its doors as quickly as possible, but progress has been slow.

“I’m still not fully restored. I still have no register. I might be working out of the cigar box. As long as there’s money coming in and the doors are open. I just got my credit card machine,” Randazzo told NY1. “I know it’s coming. I’ll be eating calamari Thursday at the latest,” Randazzo added, to the relief of those hungering for his delicious clams.

Despite the understandably less than speedy progress made by Randazzo to provide the city’s best clams, he considers himself fortunate compared to some other local businesses that share spots along Emmons Avenue.

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