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From ticket blitz to bliss

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Bronx small business owners, battered by Bloomberg-era ticket blitzes, are hoping to take new Mayor de Blasio at his word they’ll find a kinder, gentler administration.

The new Mayor promised that he would be less ‘punitive’ to small businesses at a press conference Jan. 21 as he introduced his next small business chief, Maria Torres-Springer.

“For too long the central relationship between small businesses and the city government,” the mayor said, “has been when an inspector walks through the door of that small business ready to issue a fine.”

Rattled by summonses

That tune rings true for area shop owners who have long been confused by how the city’s rules function —and who have been crippled under the weight of citations adding up.

“They don’t give you a warning,” said Irene Guanill, president of the Pelham Bay Merchants Association, “and they don’t give you any instructio­ns.”

Magdalena Makas, who operated the Forever Young Artemis hair salon on Crosby Avenue for decades before merging this year with another nearby salon, is still smarting from a $350 fine she received from the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) in 2011.

Makas’ crime? Listing different prices for “men” and “women’s” haircuts. DCA has a rule against the practice, which it argues is misleading, since women can sometimes have shorter hair than men.

But DCA ramped up enforcement of its obscure rule in 2011, doling out 580 violations compared to 212 in 2010, according to city statistics.

Makas thought about appealing the fine, but could not afford to leave her office for a day to appear in court.

“I just paid the check,” she said. “I can’t afford to lose even one day of business.”

Rosetta Lawless, owner of the Shamrock Inn, said she has nearly lost track of the amount of times city inspectors from the Department of Health have slapped her Crosby Avenue restaurant with petty fines.

She was once cited for using an ice scoop at the bar that the Department of Health deemed a few inches too short. The scoop’s handle was dangerously close to touching the ice and potentially transferring germs into drinks, DOH argued.

Lawless said that she had no idea she was in violation of the rules and agreed to buy a larger scoop, but was still stuck with a $200 fine.

“They should at least give you a certain amount of time to fix the problem,” she said.

Mayor Bill: Savior?

De Blasio said at the Jan. 21 press conference that his office would release a detailed plan in the coming weeks on how he’ll repair the city’s relationship with small businesses.

If anyone can tackle the issue, perhaps it’s Mayor Bill. As Public Advocate, de Blasio accused city agencies of gouging small businesses with fines to raise revenue. His office sued DCA and DOH to release statistics on its fining practices.

But many small business owners’ distrust of the city was furthered when the new mayor introduced legislation this month, expected to breeze through the City Council, that would compel businesses with at least five employees to provide five days of paid sick leave per employee.

“I have long known the City of New York as the enemy of all small business,” said Steve Kaufman, president of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association.

When asked if he thought de Blasio had a shot to remedy that relationship, Kaufman responded: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742–3394
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