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Queens Chronicle

Bans to tech funds: the mayor’s legacy

Queens community reflects on Bloomberg’s small business impact

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Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:24 am, Thu Dec 19, 2013.

From a “supportive” mayor to the “nanny” mayor of Queens, Mayor Bloomberg has left business leaders with a range of opinions on his impact on small businesses in the borough.

With 80 percent of the 44,000 businesses in Queens having fewer than 10 employees, according to Rob Mackay of the Queens Economic Development Corp., small businesses make up a significant portion of the Queens economy. Mackay has seen the mayor as someone who’s realized the importance of small businesses for each neighborhood, but as other business owners noted, that was sometimes hard to realize when the “nanny” mayor came into the spotlight.

His smoke-free air act in 2002, garnered him the media label “Smoke Nazi,” but a year later, the Clean Indoor Air Act made the ban statewide. According to Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, the ban “did not have the impact the industry feared.”

Over the years, Bloomberg’s reputation as a “nanny mayor” grew with his trans fat ban in 2006 and his attempt to limit the size of sugary drinks. While the sugar ban fell through, the Food and Drug Administration is now seeking to make the trans fat ban national. The health crackdown continued with the 2010 policy to grade restaurants based on health inspections, which as of now still stirs up anger among small business owners in Queens.

Francois Danielo of La Boulangerie, a bakery in Forest Hills, said that he felt harassed by the “army of [health] inspectors.” As the owner of the oldest tavern in Queens, Loycent Gordon of Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, was shocked by fines that “increased in voracity and aggressiveness.” He recalled a potato incident to illustrate his annoyance.

“The health inspector comes in, takes my chef for three hours (an employee must be present at all times), inspects every nook and cranny,” he said. The cook asked if he could go back to work since he had left a potato in the oven, but wasn’t allowed. Last to be inspected was the oven. The chef was then fined for keeping food at an improper temperature.

Calling the grading system a “sham,” Gordon added that by the time he’s learned about all possible fines, a new one sprouts up. Another hardship, notes Danielo, who often works 10 to 12 hours a day, was the waste in time having to contest fines in Manhattan. He said he would prefer if a warning system was in place instead of having to pay fines that can reach up to $2,000.

In August, the Health Department announced a deal with the City Council to lower fines, which includes reducing fines for the most violations by 15 to 50 percent.

While Luis Amorim, owner of Gyro Grill in Rego Park, also opposed the grading system, he was please with the city’s small business task force, the New Business Acceleration Team, which he says helped “tremendously” to streamline the setup of his new business.

In 2005, Bloomberg launched the NYC Business Solutions program, which John Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future said was a big help in decentralizing services to the boroughs. After the center presented a 2012 report showing the need for small businesses to integrate technology, the city soon launched a Toolkit for Small Businesses, which offers free training for online marketing.

Also in 2005, the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program was created to give those businesses a chance to bid for government contracts. But, Eduardo Giraldo, the former president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that the city neglected the program and fell short of its aim to increase diversity. As of a 2010 study, only 1.6 percent of contracts were handed out to those businesses.

Despite the mixed results of fund initiatives, Bloomberg has more ardently created programs to support the blossoming tech community. The growing list includes the creation of .nyc, a domain name that New York-based business can exclusively use; a fiber optic challenge, which allows small businesses, of fewer than 100 employees, to compete for the chance for free fiber as LIC-based company See.Me recently achieved; and the decision to turn downtown Jamaica into a tax-free zone for tech startups.

According to Mackay, tax incentives for startups have already attracted businesses to the LIC area, including Songza and Shapeways.

Another reason for the attraction to the area, said Jack Friedman, director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, was his redevelopment initiative so that areas such as Flushing now have retail rents that rival downtown Manhattan.

While Bloomberg’s health inspectors might have been a more obvious and sometimes shocking reminder of his policies, other Queens leaders look to his more subtle goals of opening up public spaces to make areas more attractive to shop at in the first place.

Patricia Grayson, president of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, remarked on the influx of former Manhattanites to Glendale, who now enjoy more green spaces, which she says the entire community supported in adding.

Meanwhile, Felicia Tullah, of the Sutphin Blvd. Business Improvement District remarked on her BID’s city partnership to improve the neighborhood with the creation of open spaces.

“It’s proven to be a major success to draw in people,” which is a good sign for business, she said.

Welcome to the discussion.