In February 2015, the city launched Small Business First, an initiative to find outdated regulations that should be “wiped off the books,” the councilman said. But three years and $27 million later, they removed zero rules, and modified 80, making them worse, according to Gjonaj.
In addition to the minimum wage increase, business owners have to contend with paid family leave and paid sick leave. While Gjonaj said employers want the best for their employees, sometimes the bottom line “doesn’t sustain all of these benefits.” Small businesses don’t have two weeks to spare, he said, especially when it likely means bringing another worker in to cover those two weeks.
“Forcing me to pay employees two weeks when my bottom line doesn’t sustain it means the few employees left are going to work harder to make up for the one employee,” Gjonaj said. “Where’s the justice?
“The small business owners I interact with, they work 80 hours a week,” he added. “They’re not taking advantage of anyone. They’re there alongside their fellow workers.”
There are other pieces of legislation and laws that will affect business owners on the horizon, Gjonaj warned. One is the bill just signed by the mayor to reform the commercial waste industry. The law creates commercial waste zones and limits each zone to three private carting companies at most. The councilman said the reform will translate to higher rates and lower service for small businesses.
“There are hopes that a challenge in the courts will reverse that decision,” he said. Another bill to watch is one in the State Legislature to eliminate the cap on street vendor permits, which Gjonaj believes will hurt brick-and-mortar businesses.
“The city of ours is figuring out a way to make your life more difficult,” he told the group of small business owners gathered at the town hall.
Gjonaj noted “startling” statistics that 50 percent of small businesses never make it to their fifth year. In the restaurant industry, 80 percent of businesses don’t make it that far. The result is a surge in storefront vacancies, fewer people working and less income tax revenue.
Despite the gloomy outlook, Gjonaj said small business owners should not get discouraged or give up. Instead, he asked them to participate to make conditions better.
“You have to take charge, you have to participate,” he said. “You have to be there, be heard and get involved.”
Gjonaj added that until business owners take the approach that an attack on any business is an attack on all businesses, the trends and patterns will continue.
“We have the ability to turn this around,” he said. “It begins in hearings and rallies. If you can’t find the time, make the time or send an employee. Encourage others to be there.”