BY BENJAMIN FANG
As part of his five-borough listening tour, Bronx Councilman Mark Gjonaj visited the Queens Chamber of Commerce last month for a small business town hall. Gjonaj, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Small Business, acknowledged the hardships that companies face in New York City today, from consumer behavior changes and e-commerce to government regulations and a growing anti-business climate.
“It’s difficult out there,” he said. “They give back to the city more than they get, yet continue to get undermined on a daily basis.”
The Bronx councilman, who comes from the private sector, said his colleagues in city government try to make businesses seem like “the devil.” He said they always “pull the card” of profits over people.
“Politics paints this ugly picture that it’s employer versus employee,” he said. “I counter that. There isn’t a single employer that I know that doesn’t want a happy employee.”
As the chair of the committee overseeing small business, Gjonaj said he has spent the last year-and-a-half fighting for three significant achievements. The first is passing legislation defining a micro-business as a company with fewer than 20 employees. He said that was an important step to help protect small companies.
“We can’t afford to lose a single business, I don’t care how small or large you are,” Gjonaj said. “New York City needs to create an environment to keep you here, to give you incentives to stay.”
Another accomplishment was the passage of the Awnings Act, a local law that implements a two-year moratorium on violations and fines related to business signs. The bill also created a task force to evaluate current rules and practices over awnings.
Gjonaj said when city inspectors began enforcing the 1960s-era law, small businesses received fines starting at $5,000. Some received fines as high as $20,000.
“What small business could possibly afford to take a hit like that?” he said. The third achievement he touted was hosting a small business rally at City Hall to highlight their challenges. “It’s the one time we came out, regardless of industry, to push back against City Hall,” he said. “To let them know enough is enough, something has to change.”
While those efforts have helped small businesses, Gjonaj said there are still so many challenges, starting with the 6,000 regulations they must obey. The councilman said there are so many rules that business owners “can’t possibly know what they are.”